When you logon to your computer, fire up your browser and start your internet trek for knowledge, entertainment or what ever it is that has your mind occupied, are you going to be able to find your answer? It’s a question which has been gaining more and more traction in the last year or so, and DuckDuckGo, a new start up search engine has been shaking the search cage in an effort to forge it’s own path.
Recently they have put up a page detailing how when you perform a search on Google, Bing or Yahoo, you’re not getting a true results page. The screen shot of the search results clearly shows that different people will receive different results searching for ‘Egypt’ as a search term. Without reading the link text, it’s clear that the results pages are vastly different. But why are they different comes down to dozens, if not hundreds of different reasons. It can be as simple as your location in the country, the time of day or the trend in the news lately. The short pictorial provided on the DuckDuckGo page details essentially how search engines, Facebook, Twitter etc are all delivering pre-packaged results based on your web usage and they also contend that this shouldn’t be happening.
DuckDuckGo is a search engine which doesn’t save your search results, doesn’t pass your search terms onto referred websites, has a nifty red box they call zero click info (handled by Wolfram Alpha) which appears on some searches and after all that, is throwing their hat into the search engine ring. Being a new player at an old game is a tough market to break into, and DuckDuckGo is performing search in a way that is attempting to deliver a filtered *and* unfiltered internet. It’s a noble idea and does have some merit if you’d like to perform somewhat private searches on sensitive matters it may be an alternative for you. Google Chrome and Internet Explorer however both offer a cookieless browser which accomplishes the same result so you don’t really have to give up the engine you know and are familiar with.
The only real way to test if you genuinely live in a “search bubble” is to perform the same search, with 0 clicks on multiple computers. If you begin seeing that your results are significantly different than other peoples then perhaps you have a case. Personally after viewing the screenshots, when you look closely at the how many pages were fetched for each search term, there are tens of millions of pages of difference, so of course the results are going to be different. Part of Google, Bing and Yahoo’s success comes from the fact that they pass some search data to the referred website in the form of the search term, it’s what enabled the search engines to build their ad programs for web users. There are dozens of different variables when you receive your search results after you click that search button and even a simple variable like which data center sends you your results influences your page. If it happens to be running with an index which is a few hours older than others, you can very easily get different results when performing the same search multiple times.
There’s a new Google search results page being tested out in the wilds of the internet. Varying reports have been given at present, but there seems to be a central theme to the different layouts discussed. The most consistent trend that is being reported in the new pages is.. more white space in the results.
It doesn’t sound like a search game changing shift, but in reality it very much is. There are millions of people using the internet every day do a myriad of things. Searching, playing games, writing stories and blogs or researching who knows what. Almost all users use a 17 inch monitor or larger and the resolution to match. As strange as it may seem, monitor size and resolution also play into the new search results page and how it may affect your search ranking.
Simply defined, white space is literally just the amount of blank space between elements on a web page. By adding more white space to the search results pages, Google has effectively lengthened the page, meaning to get to number 10 of the top 10 results, you have to scroll down on the page. Just as in the real world, location is everything when it comes to search results. If you’re not in the top 10, you’re not betting the views you need to be competitive as a very high percentage of search users don’t click on page 2 let alone page 5 of their search results. It’s been seen in demographics as well, most users don’t even scroll down to the bottom of the top 10 of their searches!
At present most users see the top 5 or 6 on their search results page. If Google were to decide to go live with this change of adding more white space, you would only see the top 4, or 3 even depending on your monitor and resolution. If you were happy and content seeing that you were sitting at number 5 or 6 in your niche, it may be time to take a long hard look at your current site to see if you can kick start some forward gains. The top 3 when it comes to being found is becoming more and more important.
When you’ve decided you need to give your website a facelift, whether it’s dated images or content or perhaps to remove flash or java elements, you may find that you’re in a pool of options much deeper than you bargained for. Joomla, Drupal, PHP, ASP, there are easily a hundred different types of content management systems you can make use of. Personally as an SEO I prefer working with HTML and CSS as it’s elegant in it’s simplicity.
Why a content management system? Because it’s easier for the end user after the site is completely built. It allows the owner of the site to be able to login to the site, to make any changes or additions that they may deem necessary, it allows the designer to create a site to your specs and leave it with you to manage in the end. This is a great idea from a designers view as maintenance and upkeep are out of their hands. As a user however, if you’re not mindful of the content you add and change, you could accidentally find yourself kicked out of the SERPs. The safest way to ensure that all of the rules and guidelines are being followed is to be in league with a search engine optimization expert. Someone who you can contact and who can direct your online efforts to better position yourself on the organic search listings.
What type of website you have built, also determines the level of difficulty your SEO will be confronted with online. There are nuances and intricacies which exist in code which can go so far as having as simple a mistake as an extra space in the page completely takes your site down. It’s of importance when you’re contracting someone to perform your SEO, that they know your CMS and are comfortable in using it.
There needs to be some distiction made about those who are truly search engine optimization experts and web designers. Web designers selling themselves as SEO experts aren’t going to do you the services you may need or require to get the results you desire. Purely SEO companies will most likely not be able to design and build you the website look you desire for your brand. Just like you wouldn’t hire a plumber to build your house, you don’t hire a web designer to perform your SEO.
Search Engine Optimization, we’re in the business of driving your website to the top of the search results relevant to your industry. A lot of the time, it sounds too good to be true, that when reaching this position you can literally count yourself as a leader. So you sit back, relax and watch as the visitors pour in. And then you start to notice something you didn’t prepare yourself for, your visitors start dropping off.
Where you once were receiving hundreds of qualified visitors to your site, you’ve watched it drop off to a trickle of where you were at your peak. So what happened? Did your SEO expert fail you? Possibly, we do make mistakes from time to time. But the first rule of SEO is KISS it; Keep It Simple Stupid. With that in mind, grab your pencils and paper and let’s take a look at what are the contributing factors to dropped traffic.
First and foremost, check your content. Have you been creating fresh and compelling content for your site? Have you allowed your SEO to read it before you upload it to your site or did you just toss up what ever jargon you happened to jot down in a hurry? The search engines have always proclaimed that content is king and when your content doesn’t measure up anymore, you’re going to lose your crown. That means when you’re being creative, you need to bear in mind your visitor base. Do they understand industry terms? Or do you need to use generic terms. Will they be able to handle acronyms and specific statements about your products and services? Being hasty in the creation process can be a huge contributor to losing traffic to your site. Properly spelled, grammatically correct and most of all relevant to your site content, can drive you to the top of the mountain and keep you there like an anchor.
Another avenue to explore for you, have you done any massive changes to your website either functionality or design? If you’ve changed the way your navigation works on your site and didn’t properly relay that information to the search engines, you’ll likely slip off of search until the spiders find all of your content again.
Have you kept an open and consistent dialogue with your SEO expert? When a change is requested that needs to be completed, you need to bear in mind that the internet doesn’t stop. It doesn’t sleep, rest, eat or use the washroom. The bots are always out there, always searching, parsing and indexing. A requested change needs to happen as soon as possible. Lost time when making changes can make a huge impact on your search position.
The marketing game has changed significantly in the last 10 years with the growth of the search engines. Gone are the days of dumping a quarter of a million dollars into an ad campaign and waiting for the kick back from it. International marketing superstardom can be had with a well coded website with strong quality content created by one person sitting behind a keyboard.
There are risks and rewards to be found for your business in any advertising avenue, when you get to the bottom line you need to weigh the costs versus the return on the investment. And while some of the oldest marketing tricks in the book still work, like television, radio and newspaper. The simple truth is, less and less people are buy newspapers, watching television or listening to the radio.
Consumers are beginning to PVR their favorite shows, skipping the commercials and spending their time watching the content they want to see. Newspapers, once one of the largest staples of information, readership has been steadily dropping as more and more people get their news from an online source whether it’s via their computer or even a smart phone. Radio is starting to show some declines as commuters plug in their portable music devices and tune into their own music libraries. Online advertising is still in its infancy here in Canada especially and it’s painful to see when businesses and organisations just flat out refuse to listen to the evolving market.
Here in however, also lies a problem in and of itself. When you’re making that step online, who do you turn to for help? There’s no SEO club, there’s no secondary education available in a formal schooling to teach people how to effectively code online for optimization. We don’t carry cards, we don’t have a monthly news letter and we most certainly do not all fit into the same basket. So what is there you can do to ensure that the “expert” that you’ve hired is the real deal?
You can start at the beginning, asking for such things as previous clients and how their rankings were affected. You can search for their website using keywords you would expect them to be optimized for. Touting themselves as a PPC expert? Google them. Search for them on Bing, Google, Yahoo, pick your engine and scour away. If you’ve found that you’ve hired someone selling themselves as an expert and all they do is build you a Facebook account and a Twitter account, then don’t worry you still have time to get into the game. But don’t be fooled, your competitors are playing the same game as you, and if they started before you, they have the lead however temporary. To catch up, you’ll need to play harder, faster and better than everyone else.
There’s a million and one ways to make yourself found online, local, mobile, social, organic, ppc and within each of these there are countless other methods to work on. Let’s start with the assumption that you’ve followed all of the best practices when it comes to building your website.
You’ve used CSS and XML to create a uniform and attractive look. Used even simple things such as a doctype to tell your browser what it is that it’s reading. Creative, compelling content with a strong call to action which drives your visitors to buy your product, sign up for your news letter or forum and continue visiting your pages. Your images are tagged, your categories are tagged, you’ve worked hard at being the best in your niche market and are steadily enjoying the growing fruits of your labor. And then you learn, there is more which you can do to increase your traffic flow, visibility and as a result, improve your bottom line.
There’s always more which can be done in marketing yourself online, more steps which you can take to become more visible. That step you’ve taken to tag all of your images on your website properly? Congratulations, by taking a very simple step you’ve helped increase your visibility in the image searchs in both Bing and Google. With properly tagged and titled images, it helps your customers reach your site when you have clear pictures for your product to be seen.
Another strong step is issuing news about your company consistently. Whether you’ve closed that massive new merger which will allow you to double production or support, or even if all you’ve done is decided to hold a spring cleaning sale. It’s important to remain active in the eyes of your customer. This is where a blog is an amazing tool for your business, both small and large. It’s an ideal space for all of the aforementioned releases, as well as a location for your clients and customers to reply to your posts and even suggest improvements if some are needed in their eyes.
If you’ve cornered your niche market, and created your very own brand image offline, it’s extremely important to continue that leverage online. As an example, it wouldn’t do Pepsi or Coca-Cola any good to have direct queries for their brand name, direct users to competitors websites. It’s lost revenue and a lost avenue for income.
And if you provide a product or a service which has many steps or intricacies, it only helps your case to develop your very own how to pages on your website. If you provide a specific style of door knocker as an example, providing clear and concise directions on your website on how to install and care for your product can help instantly transform a curious searcher, into a new customer.
Just to set a few points straight, I’m going to talk about the very basic steps to getting your web presence up and running. Because as it stands, there’s always a schiester out there, who likes to sell themselves as an expert in website design, optimization and who knows what else.
Since we’re working with the premise that you already own a business, you need to see if the domain name you’re interested in is available for purchase. So for example, your business sells personalized bath towels and robes. Now when you’re trying to decide what your domain name should be, using personalizedbathaccessories.com isn’t necessarily the best idea. Sure it has your most relevant keyword as your url, but that really doesn’t make as major a difference as some would make you believe. Just in the interest of relative ease, we’ll use the domain name of bathwear.ca for the example, url is not the holy grail of search. Step 1 is in control, congratulations!
Step 2, you need to decide on a host for your website. Things can get really crazy in this aspect, bandwidth usage, email usage, users allowed on the site, so on and so forth. When it comes to your host, you’re most interested in server uptime. It doesn’t matter if it only cost you $5 a month to host your site if it’s offline for 30% of the time. That’s 30% less time you have to be making sales online! You get what you pay for, so if your hosting plan for 99.99% uptime is $45 a month, bite the bullet and go with quality. You definitely get what you pay for, and if you’re curious about the reliability of a host, a quick perusal of their support boards is a good gauge of their quality of service.
Step 3 is where the magic begins, you’ll begin to build your website! There are dozens of different programming languages out there, but the tried and true HTML coding with some CSS magic for aesthetics can do an amazing job of a website. Additionally, it’s exceptionally easy to find even free templates with which to work from. If you visit a developer and they tell you it’s going to cost you thousands upon thousands of dollars to develop your basic website for your business, then it’s in your best interest to ask for some examples of their work. Another point to consider, how did you find the developers website to navigate? It’s often a reflection of their devotion and competance in their field of work.
Once you’ve gotten your website built, uploaded it to your host and assigned your DNS properly, you’re good to start spreading the word that you have yourself a website. There’s always the path of using existing media, television, radio and newspaper, or you could opt for a much more results oriented and trackable search engine marketing and search engine optimization. As a new website, just making it’s way online if you’re looking for fast “rankings” AdWords is the way to go. It can help draw attention to your fledgling site as you begin the much more intensive organic listings work with SEO. If you haven’t been caught by the snake oil salesmen yet, this is your last hurdle in their maze. SEO and SEM, while time consuming are both extremely measurable metrics tied to their investment. If you have an SEO for example tell you they’ll work for only $200 a month, you might think that’s a great savings, but that would be like going to the school carwash to detail your new Porsche. You absolutely positively get what you pay for when it comes to a search engine optimization company, and the number one way to find the big fish in the pond?
Search for them.
There we go, not so hard is it?
Since Mr.Page has taken hold of the reins of the Google ship, he’s made some clear moves to date. Appointing 7 executives who he can deal with directly in order to steamline any changes in their products, and to serve up a Google wide memo to prove just how serious they are about getting social.
Pages memo is quoted as: “strategy to integrate relationships, sharing and identity across our products. If we’re successful, your bonus could be up to 25% bigger. If not, your bonus could be up to 25% less than target.”
So it’s time to take that 20% free initiative time and develop the next social step stone at the Google Plex. It’s interesting, and a little scary to see Page directing so much development power towards a single goal with the Google engineers, it’s going to be an interesting year in the social market I’d bet.
And as if not to play any favorites, the Department of Justice has decided that yes Google can have ITA, but we get to watch what you do with it. Oh and also, you need to share it with everyone. And development? You can’t put anymore money into it than ITA already has.
Those may come across as negative points, but on the whole they’ll help foster a more powerful travel search feature across multiple platforms. Everyone is a winner, Google gets what they want, and the travel industry gets to share on the level of innovation that is developed from becoming part of the Google machine.
If you think of the internet as the wild west, then it’s safe to make the correlation of there being good guys, bad guys and everyone else.
Using this basis of comparison, who fits into what category is a completely arbitrary decision that changes between people and organizations. The search engines for example, Bing, Google, Yahoo etc, are they the good guys because of the services they provide? Or are they the bad guys because they can provide you with a basicly clear window to the internet? What about the RIAA, FCC and those of the same ilk. Are they good or bad because they want to be able to monitor online content, filter it according to rights and punish all who may dare to break their rules.
It’s a new age of content creation, distribution and monitoring, so I find it a little strange that the policy makers are pointing fingers at the big guy, Google. Their claim as a part of the proposed Web Censoship bill, is that Google (in a nutshell) is responsible for policing the internet and what their searches turn up. A spokesman for Google, Kent Walker was plain in his answer in saying that if this bill were to pass, then private companies will have a tremendous amount of power over Google and it’s behaviour. He also pointed out that there are flaws in any system, and that the bad eggs are out there specifically working on gaming the system and that just because a website has a link to content which may not be hosted by them, they shouldn’t be punished.
Because let’s be honest, as any web designer can tell you, a site can be created in about 20 minutes and uploaded and active online in 30 total. That site will then be crawled and placed in the index as appropriately as possible. Now the people trying to game the censorship system, all they have to do is create site after site, after site. The pages will be up and indexed faster than they could ever be taken down, any one with even half of an idea as to how the web works knows this.
If the bill should pass, it will mean new stringent guidelines to be adhered to and that god forbid you post something that becomes unliked by someone in power because you may just find yourself invisible in search no matter what you do. It’s an authoritorian rule, managed by those with the most power. And Scarface said it best:
In this country, you gotta make the money first. Then when you get the money, you get the power.
For further information and reading, you can find both sides of the argument at ArsTechnica. Both sides of the argument are discussed, those for the bill, and those against the bill.
The internet is an amazing place, it has pretty much anything you could possibly want on it. It has examples of every facet of humanity and culture, it will be somewhat a wonder what it’s going to look like in the next 15 years considering the leaps and bounds it has changed in the first 15 of becoming widely accessible.
You can find essentially anything online. Recipes, songs, programs, services, information, the list is inhibited only by your own imagination. But does that make what you find true? A court in Italy has recently decided that just in case it is, Google needs to filter and censor their auto complete data.
A little bit of background is probably in order. Basically someone searched for themselves on Google, and the autocomplete feature offered suggestions such as con man and fraud.
Defamation and slander will always exist in some form or another in the open world. Auto complete within Google searches is a relatively new feature, so when I read of the decision that was upheld in the Court of Milan I somewhat echoed Googles disappointed response.
It’s not up to the search engine service to censor the entirety of the internet, after all the pages which the terms were a part of still exist, are indexed and can be found when you look. This is where brand and image management come into play, if someone messes with your online image, it’s dealt with quickly and efficiently.
Perhaps this is just another strong example for anyone with prospective web ideas. Always go with the option to opt-in as opposed to opt-out. The web is experiencing it’s own version of growing pains, when you’re ready to make your tracks online just be sure you have the search experts on your side.