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.
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.
We’ve been over the steps of what you need to do when you’ve been penalized and dropped from the index, but once you’ve followed all of those steps, you might be wondering just what’s next? To recap quickly what you should do, first go over your email (which you most undoubtedly have) and follow their major points of issue. If it’s bad backlinks, do your best to have the removed. Spammy content? Get a handle on it and rewrite it. Found out your SEO is playing the black hat game of gaming the engines instead of working with them? It’s time to drop them and call the real experts in search. After all of those steps, you resubmit your site for inclusion.
But once you’ve done all of that, it’s in the hands of the search gods. It’s where you need to sit on your hands, and wait for them to decide if you’ve done enough, to be reindexed and included back into the search rankings. What some people don’t realize though, is sometimes the search engines don’t fully clean your record, it may only be a partial pardon, incentive really to clean the rest of your act up. Just like search engine optimization isn’t just a black and white industry, neither is directing traffic at Google or Bing.
So, just how relevant is too relevant? It’s a question being asked lately as more and more often, the results page tends to be over taken by the same website. There was a short video put out by Matt Cutts and the Google team, trying to describe just what’s going on.
The method for displaying these newer results however, have been getting under users skin however. How diverse do the search results really look, or seem, when the top three or four, and sometimes the entire page, is taken up with a single result? Relevance to the search query is obviously which drives Google and other search engines to deliver their results, and the better refined they the better it is for the end user. Have you had any instances recently where the search results page has been dominated by a single result?
The web is a huge place, full of anything you can think of at any given time, because chances are if you can think of it, someone has made a website or web page for it somewhere. It could be as common as people writing about the latest movie or song, or it could be as low key as a new local band for instance, but if you were to hit up a search engine you will almost always find at least a webpage about it.
And with all of the billions and billions of web page and websites out there, it creates a market, and with any market comes the marketers. Search engine optimization, adwords, white hat, black hat, when you start reading about the industry you will find yourself running into terms which become more and more unfamiliar as you go. It’s no wonder that when you start having the conversation with a prospective, or sometimes even existing client, that the question comes up “Do you know how Google/Bing/Yahoo works? Can you promise me number 1?” Now the polite, short answer to that question is “No” and the long version is “No, we can’t promise number 1″. And then the inevitable happens, they utter the beginning of the worst phrase you can hear as an SEO “But I read/heard/was told that..”
Here’s the short reason why we can’t guarantee you number 1 in search for your business: the web and the search algorithms are always changing. When Sergei and Larry initially created the Google algorithm to run around and start indexing the web, it wouldn’t be a surprise to hear they never imagined it would get so massive. It’s rumored that the algorithm that runs now has somewhere between 250 and 300 ranking factors in it as it parses your website. And some of the confusion for those on the outside of the market, is when they read an article about how someone has cracked the algorithm to always rank on the top. I apologize for being up front, but anyone who tries to tell their clients that is a conman. At this stage of the search game, with as long as the algorithms have been changing and adapting, I doubt there is any one person employed by Google or Bing, who can sit down and tell you just how it works. Because at this point, they are just too big, too complex, and take into account so many different points that it’s mind boggling.
So your best course of action, is to adhere to the KISS principle, Keep It Simple Stupid. Don’t get crazy with your site, don’t get too smart with your content and follow the best practice guidelines; and you’ll be okay.
You can’t knock them for trying, and even though they’re well out of the search market share race, Yahoo has thrown another punch in the fight to stay relevant. Their new piece of software, Axis, is actually an interesting project, born with the idea to make searching quicker, and synchronous across your devices.
When you’re on your PC or laptop, you can only use their new tool as a browser plugin, giving you a more visual display of your searches. With the results pulled directly from Bing powered search, you can browse through your results in a manner more akin to flipping album covers in your media player. The results are the same, powered by Bing as they have for the last while, just delivered in a different package. As well as having a bottom screen bar taking up some of your screen real estate, you’re also given tabs on the left and right of your screen, to quickly navigate deeper into your search results. It’s a different take on a new game, and basically eliminates using the back button to locate exactly what you were looking for.
There is a bigger difference when you start to use Axis on your iPhone or iPad however. The app functions more like an instant share button, allowing you to spread the word about the newest deal you’ve found. It also allows you to quickly send those results to any of your contacts, and has added a new spin to mobile browsing with letting you preview your destination. Currently no other app has the capability in the marketplace, and by innovating Yahoo, with Axis, has kept themselves relevant in the search marketing game. A bonus for the company is they’ve also allowed you to synch your devices when signed into your Yahoo account, so while looking for that home repair guide on your desktop, you can open up that same page on your iPad and get right down to work, as it will have your spot saved right where you left off.
With mobile marketing and mobile search growing at a massive rate for the next few years to come, by pushing into this market early Yahoo has definitely made themselves a player in the meantime, and likely a part of the game for at least a few more years to come.
An interesting blog post from Bing has been gaining steam in discussion forums, and unsurprisingly, it pokes fun at Google and the recent Penguin update. A little poem of sorts has been made up, and it goes something like this:
Animal kingdom hurting ROI?
Pandas and penguins, oh my!
Take control and tell the fauna “Bye Bye”,
With these helpful suggestions to diversify!
It’s a silly little rhyme, but it has great sense in it; diversify. They go on to explain that by diversifying your websites optimization techniques, you can soften, or even eliminate the blow felt across the web with algorithm changes. If your organic optimization is flowing strong and healthy, focus on a weaker area, perhaps pay per click optimization and help to boost it’s output. Organic results are typically the hardest hit in search when there is an algorithm update or a sweeping change made ala Panda or Penguin. By having your additional channels of traffic performing at their peak, you can protect your position online and react if there is a drastic change occuring.
The Bing post went on to make great points as well, diversification aside, about how to manage your presence on the web. Keep an ear to the ground for any new and trending websites or aggregators, like Pinterest just a couple of months ago. It went from a simple board where people can share interests quickly and easily, to having a Pin button begin popping up on almost every major site out there. Pinterest had some key factors which helped make it incredibly relevant, strong, rapid growth, easily adopted technology, the media got on board quickly which spread the word and add in the interaction of friends and family and it took off like a rocket. Keeping your eyes on the horizon and watching for a trend can be an extremely helpful safety net.
There were a few great other points that were covered in the post, a lot of them were really just basics that cover some of the most basic SEO skillset. Like taking care of your sitemaps, are all of the links relevant and none broken. Same with your robots file, when was the last time you had a look at it’s contents to ensure it was still correctly configured? Do you have social sharing on the pages you want to have sharing on, and have you managed to keep any duplicate content issues down to nothing. Very, very basic work, not even necessarily from a search engine optimization stand point, but just from a webmaster stand point. Keep it clean, keep it basic, follow the news and trends, and you’ll be ready for the algorithm shifts across nearly all search engines.
Currently Bing is going through a transformation of sorts, they’ve revamped their look and performance, changed up the way they do social, and tried to streamline everything overall. The current end result: in their own internal testing they’ve come out ahead of Google. A near 10% gain while Google lost 10% of their score during testing, so what’s Bing been up too?
Firstly, they’ve been working hard at incorporating more of the social web, into your search results. Earlier in the year, Google introduced their version of this idea as Search+ your world, and was met with the ire of masses. The claim was made that Google was favoring their own social network and shunning Facebook and Twitter, with Google counter arguing that they couldn’t gather information from those sources. Bing currently, manages to pull information on searches from all of these sources, Facebook, Twitter, as well as Google+. It may seem as though Google was just blowing hot air, but it needs to be mentioned that late last year Twitter did effectively block the search engine, and Facebook keeps a pretty tight handle on what gets out onto the web, even with open and social profiles. Microsoft Bing, currently has deals worked out with both of these parties to index their information, and Google+ profiles, if they’re set to public then everything on that page is indexed as a public website.
Bing used to have your social mixed in with your search results, but they decided to change that idea and went in a completely different direction. All of the social search results have been shoved off to the right side of your screen, where your friends, family and colleagues are ranked as per relevancy based on your search. Also included in those social results are people and items which may also be relevant to your search. The reason for the change according to Bing, is having the social results mixed in with organic, they felt that it diluted the page too much, and your searches would be affected.
So where does that leave us, Bing is in the process of launching their completely revamed search and social service, and they’ve made big gains in the search world, based on their own internal testing. A blog post on that point makes it a little clearer:
We regularly test unbranded results, removing any trace of Google and Bing branding. When we did this study in January of last year 34% people preferred Bing, while 38% preferred Google. The same unbranded study now shows that Bing Search results now have a much wider lead over Google’s. When shown unbranded search results 43% prefer Bing results while only 28% prefer Google results.