Due to the way that the search engines deliver their information to users there has been a standing debate about who is actually responsible for those results. Some say it’s the search engines themselves that control the results pages and the response from Google and Bing for example is that they don’t control the results, they merely display them.
Last month the EU put forth a rule that everyone has the right to be forgotten, a method which users can submit to have urls removed from the results pages that they feel are unacceptable. It opened the doorway to the SERPs being hand curated by it’s users and the end goal being the removal of defamatory information from specific searches. It’s not something that you can just request willy nilly, you need to be either the person who is directly affected by the term, or be the authorized representative of said person.
The form requires submission of a photo ID of the individual the request is for. So even if a third-party is doing the submission for someone else, they need that person’s photo ID as a way to prove they have some type of approval by them. This implementation is only available currently in the EU however, and as of just a couple of days it was unknown if the trend would follow over to the US side of Google. As it turns out, the right to be forgotten form will remain an EU only feature of search, and it doesn’t completely remove web addresses from the index it merely removes them from the EU results pages.
But as the saying is for every door that closes another one opens, it seems that Bing as they were affected by the decision as well, has decided to try and work the system in across the board. At last count Google was taking in around 10,000 requests per day from the form process, so it’s clearly going to take some time for the SERPs to reflect all of the proposed and accepted changes, there hasn’t been any mention how Bing is faring in the requests department.
Just a short time ago one of the largest sites on the entire web was hit with what looked like a manual penalty from Google. This week it sounds like they’re firing back with a little tongue in cheek report stating “there is no measurable benefit” to paid ads – aka Adwords.
It’s an interesting read as eBay is one of the largest ecommerce sites on the web and they would definitely have the budget and manpower to really determine how much paying for a service like Adwords really benefits them. For a quick review of just what Adwords are to search, they’re the paid advertisements that appear on the top, bottom or to the side of the search results page. They’re like the chocolate bar isle in the grocery store as when you click them you’re brought to exactly where you would expect to. Search for ‘buy cars winnipeg’ for example and you’ll see ads from companies like Ford and Hyundai at the top or side of the page, having paid to appear for that term. eBay contends that using paid advertising is ineffective and that in the majority of the cases they researched the leads generated were people already loyal customers of the company whose ad they clicked.
They did however admit that when using generic terms like a brand name search there may still be a benefit attached to spending on those ads.
Unlike branded search, where a firm’s website is usually in the top organic search slot, organic placement for non-branded terms vary widely
As a search marketer however there is a handful additional uses that Adwords can be used for. We can use paid ads as a test bed of sorts, just to gauge the interest of a set of terms in a specific location for example, over a very specific length of time; instead of investing man hours and effort optimizing for a set of terms that have no traction. Paying for a campaign also allows us to receive important keyword data, doubly important now that Google encrypts all of their searches coming through the results pages, this keyword data can allow us to adjust content based on interest quickly, and accurately.
For eBay to come out and say that paying for advertising isn’t worth the cost is a little short sighted, perhaps they’re just feeling a tad left out after being on the wrong side of the search engines wrath this past week.
A recent update to Panda has rolled out over the last little while and while everyone likes to cry foul that the search engines play favorites, but as the signals from the last few days become clearer it looks like one of the giants on the web has been targeted with a penalty or two.
This recent update to the Panda portion of the search algorithm has been a true update, not just a typical refresh of the data that happens on a monthly basis. The short version of what they’ve done is that Panda can now interpret different languages easier than they could before, laying the ground work for future updates and additions if needed. So how did this affect a site as large and influential as eBay you might ask? Well it actually has more to do with the people behind the scenes at Google rather than just the algorithm itself.
While it looks like eBay was perhaps affected by the algorithm update a tad, it looks more and more like it has had a manual penalty levied against it for some of it’s urls on the site. Doing a thorough dig through of the urls that were penalized on the eBay site it seems targeted at urls that have “bhp” in them – which is why it looks like a manual penalty instead of terms being caught up in an update.
So what is there to take away from this example? That no matter how big you are you can still be caught running on the wrong side of the search engines and their algorithms. As with previous large companies being caught up though, like BMW and Teleflora for example, I wouldn’t expect eBay to be on the wrong side of the SERPs for long.
When you’ve finally gotten your website online there are a million steps that you need to take in order to be ranked at the top of your niche market on the results pages. Instead of trying to explain each point, we’ll take a different tack this time around, how about a list of things of what not to do on your website.
If you’re not managing your site yourself, hopefully the person or agency you have contracted is on the ball and has a clue about how not to run afoul of the rules. If your site gets hit by a spam penalty, whether by the algorithm automatically or if you’ve been flagged manually, it isn’t the end of the world it can be fixed. But let’s get started so you can have a cheat sheet for yourself to check on your agencies efforts where your website is concerned. A note just before we get into things, these are not hard and fast rules, the internet isn’t even remotely a black and white entity, so take everything you read below with a grain of salt.
Misspelling words is an every day thing, everyone does it billions of times per day. But one way that you can run on the wrong side of the web spam team is if you happen to register a domain name with a misspelled version of a highly notable brand name in your niche with the idea to try and generate traffic off of the misspelled term. This is a good example of the web not being black and white, anyone can register any domain name so long as it’s available – but that doesn’t mean that the search engines don’t have a say in where it’ll place it in the results pages.
Having a meta refresh in your homepage, effectively locking visitors into your website by messing with their browser control. It’s not uncommon that when you arrive at the wrong website you hit the back button or the backspace key to return to the page you were at. But using a method like a meta refresh in the header of your websites home page removes that option to a visitor to your site. The basic sequence of events with this type of refresh is when a visitor lands on your page, it refreshes itself a time or two so that when they press the back button, they don’t actually leave the site. Instead they’ve just refreshed the page again and they’re back where they don’t want to be. It’s a frustrating experience in general for users, and a no-no with the search engines.
Having your website encoded entirely in Flash, Java and even some versions of Ajax or Silverlight which require specific browser plugins to function correctly. While this isn’t a negative with the search engines specifically, using entirely visual only coding effectively hides your website from the search engines. Being that Google, Bing and other engines look for text on a website, the text on a Flash and even sometimes Java scripts isn’t readable by them so they assume it’s a blank page. They are getting better at digging the text out, but they’re not all the way there yet so keep that in mind when a designer approaches you with a flashy visual display that has no real text elements. Along the same line of thinking but this time where users are concerned, more and more people are accessing the web with tablets and phones. iPads and iPhones take up a sizable share of the mobile marketplace and they can not display any Flash and some Java, your site would literally be invisible and unusable to an iPad user if you had an entirely Flash built website.
When you think of search results you often think of the biggest names in the game, Google being the biggest of them all. Bing sometimes shows up of course and they’re upping their game lately which is a very good thing for the internet as a whole.
The latest improvement that Bing is working on is actively leveraging the power of other search providers as well. The preliminary shots of how this is playing out is turning out to be handy to find local results and help you make a decision quicker than having only a single list of results in front of you. As an example, you may be looking for an dinner option for the evening, and if you use Bing for your search now you have the option of seeing additional results from sites like Yelp. Having more options in your search results page may seem counter intuitive but for everyone involved it’s an improvement. This follows somewhat in suit with how Google has had to open up their results page in the EU anti-trust settlement.
As a user, more options to make a decision is always a good thing. Not only does it allow you to possibly read some reviews and see personal experiences from other patrons, but you may get a handful of different results as well with which to base your decision.
As a business owner, having your name out there for even more potential terms than you’ve originally targeted can help grow your customer base. Making sure you have positive reviews and experiences will help your reputation with the other sites like Yelp or OpenTable, and also helps to reinforce your position in the organic results as well while growing your local customer loyalty.
Change is a great thing to be happening with the search engines and hopefully the inclusion of the other forms of providers only increases the quality of results as a whole.
It’s been a busy week working on the web with all of the heart attacks going on across the web. In case you were living under a rock for the last 5 days I’ll go through a quick recap for you.
The issue that popped up this weekend affected a absolutely massive portion of the web, some reports saying as much as 65% of all websites had the potential to be affected. When you’re talking about billions of websites and trillions of pages, it’s a huge amount of the web. Just to be clear about the issue, the Heartbeat bug affected sites that were using a specific security certificate from OpenSSL – the community driven option to paying for a security certificate for your website.
Without going into too much technical jargon and being confusing, the best description I found regarding the bug was this description of events.
The top portion of the exchange is how a secure connection works, it’s a very simplified version of events between your computer and the webserver you’ve connected to. The Heartbleed version of events that comprises the bottom portion of the image is where the exploit got it’s name. The process is the same, but via what’s called an overflow error a malicious user can request a longer string of information back related to your security code, called an overflow error.
The issue was found, corrected and there are multiple steps you can take if you feel that your personal web security was in question. CNet has a running list of sites which have been patched against the Heartbleed bug and if you should potentially change your passwords on those services. Have a look through their list and follow the proposed directions to minimize any potential security issues you may have in the future.
image credit : vox.com
Time for a little bit of free advice for you and your website, especially if you happen to be an affiliate or a licensed dealer for a larger company.
There are definitely some positive aspects when you work as a dealer or an affiliate for a larger business or brand. You gain the instant recognition and the branding power built by the advertising dollars that have already been spent. You also usually have access to their marketing teams and some of their infrastructure in order to help develop and grow a web presence for yourself. Oodles of content, images, videos and more marketing materials than you would likely know what to realistically do with. Usually the conversation with the branding team consists of them telling you that as you build your site and use their assets, consists of being advised to just go ahead and copy what they’ve written and if you have any issues just link people back to their website.
Please, if you’re an affiliate or a dealer for a brand don’t do this.
Having all of their promotional materials, text content and images is an amazing start to your website and being able to promote their product but the last thing you want to do is follow that type of marketing advice. Instead what you want to do is use their text content as a guide and recreate it in a way that benefits your business and it’s location instead of copying it word for word. The images are less of a concern, as you can’t really edit them without losing the quality that some branding companies put into their photos. When you copy and paste your dealers content you’re basically telling the search engines that you’re selling their product – see my content is the same and I have the affiliate links and everything! And the search engines will promptly drop you down the page for that branding term as well, for precisely those points. Regardless of who you are, how large your brand is or how much money you make, if you try and skimp on the rules of the search game then you’re going to lose. Just ask BMW, Teleflora or JC Penny, they all had their own problems of course, but they’re multi-billion dollar brands and the search engines had no qualms about doling out penalties when they were necessary. Remember that with your small business when you’re ready to bring your site online, take the time to rewrite the content to make it relevant for you and your business. Cheat at your own peril.
There is to this day a general misunderstanding about search engine optimization and just what it can do for your website and business; SEO will not sell your product for you.
What optimizing for search does do however is give you visibility online, a very important component of online sales to be sure but it’s only one side of the coin. For the sake of explaining assumptions will be made – seeing as how you likely have your own website for your business it would be somewhat safe to say that there is some experience selling yourself or your wares to your intended audience. When you’re working on a sale for yourself a solid general rule to follow would be around 1 in 10 or so, for every 10 contacts that you make you’ll earn a sale – it may seem low but this is from a strictly hard sell stand point. From that stand point the most difficult part of making that sale isn’t actually the conversation with the customer, it’s generating that initial point of contact. The days of people wandering down the sidewalk and walking into a store front that intrigues them are dwindling, increasingly often consumers are turning to the internet to procure their desired goods.
If you already have a website then a good 30% of the work is done already, you have the potential to turn that previous hard sell approach into a soft sell, qualified visitors to your site are there because they want what you have. That’s where SEO, aka internet marketing can help turn a paltry 10-20 visitors a month into hundreds, if not thousands if your market is big enough. What we can bring your business and website as SEO professionals is visibility, you are looking for the aforementioned qualified consumers – whether you want a sale, a sign up, or an contact me later email, search engine optimization can help make that happen.
What we can not do however, is actually force that sale for you and your website. Every now and then during a campaign there is a tipping point where we sit down with our clients and essentially have the following conversation. Now that we’ve addressed your technical and optimization issues, it’s time to talk about your conversion points and methods. What makes that conversation frustrating is when the advice is ignored or discounted because now that you have all that visibility and traffic your sales will go up the same amount, right?
Contrary to what some corners of the internet like to share, that Google, Bing and all the other search engines are trying to steal you away, they really have no interest in keeping you on their search pages long term. They want you searching for answers and clicking on your chosen result, not hanging out on a blank page with a search box in it. But what does that do for a local business, maybe a little mom and pop store that only has one or two employees? Regardless of your size, you can still leverage the search engines to help grow your business, and believe it or not on the internet everyone has a shot at being number one.
One of the big changes in the last couple of months has been the drive towards semantic natural searching by the search engines. It is an approach and change designed to make searching a simpler affair for the user, the goal for example being “what is the best restaurant 6 blocks from here”. Smart phones and tablets are very good at what they do and with how convenient they are to carry and use this sort of search isn’t that far off in the future. You can already use a search like “best restaurant in winnipeg” and get a fairly decent set of results based on both consumer and editorialized reviews. So what can you do as a mom and pop to take advatage?
For starters if you have a website with a brick and mortar location then you should have your Google+ local listing filled out and attributed to you. Formerly known as Google Places, the local listings are the results you see that show up on the map with the lettered marker points directing you exactly where to go. It allows Google to verify your listing and location with you and tells the search engine that you’re a real business with doors and walls and everything! It’s a very simple step to take which only helps your visibility and actually leads into the next point – customer reviews.
Having an A+ rating is great where the local better business bureau is concerned, but even better for yourself is when you can encourage your customers to post a review to your local listings. Whether it’s Yelp, Urban Spoon, or even on your Google+ local profile it serves two fold for your business needs. First it lets visitors who find your site have a little bit of insight into how you conduct your business and how you might treat your customers. Even the negative reviews can be extremely helpful in this case, provided of course you can properly remedy the situation. And secondly it is like adding a notch on your belt for the search engines, just another way you’ve proven to them that you have an active visitor/customer base.
A final, and one of the more obvious steps that you’d be surprised to learn gets missed is to ensure you have your physical address on both your website, and your local profile. It’s a surprisingly often missed step where site owners are concerned which is sometimes lost with the addition of a contact form added to a website. It is assumed that a site visitor will automatically use a form or page to get a message or question into a site owner, but what if they would rather walk in your door and talk to a person? Or call and talk to someone to have their questions answered? You need to make sure your location and contact information is included in your website, your local profile listings and in doing so you’re likely to see increased foot traffic, as well as web traffic. The easier you are to find, the more likely you are to make a sale.
The internet is a pretty big place and with Facebook throwing its hat in the search ring with their trillion of connections made, it shouldn’t surprise anyone if a search engine doesn’t immediately deliver exactly what you’re looking for with your first search.
Google is often placed under the microscope when complaints about the web or search quality come up, but it seems exceedingly rare that anyone actually talks about how big a job it is to be a search engine. Using Facebooks example of having an index of a trillion connections made using their social software alone, it should be clear that the web is a huge place. An estimate of the size of the internet is somewhere over 100 trillion web pages and users and complainers are often quick to pass judgement on the search engines when they couldn’t find what they want. Google is the largest and most widely used search engine on the web, still holding onto more than 2/3 of the audience out there and even they don’t even try to get close to curating that massive amount of pages.
When you factor in that many pages on the web and an algorithm that sorts, ranks and tries to properly place every one that it crawls <em>and</em> that it can deliver your results pages in less than a half second it should really be amazing that it can be done at all. Constant updates and improvements to the algorithm that does the bulk of the work can alter the pages you see when you search, and even sometimes appears to completely break the results pages as was the impression when Panda and Penguin were integrated into the algorithm. As an exercise in just how massive an undertaking this can be, and how Google and the other search engines aren’t out to get you and your site specifically give this a go. Imagine you have 100 pennies in your possession all with a different year on them, after shaking them all up in a can pick out the one with the year of your birth on it, if you don’t pick out your year it goes back into the can. You might get it in the first few or it may take you 30 – 40 tries, now repeat that experiment 100,000,000 more times and you’ll have a sample of how much work the search algorithms do every time they perform your search.