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Please, Stop Asking Me About SEO Secrets

Needless to say, I get A LOT of questions about Search Engine Optimization (SEO). They usually go something like this:

  • “How can I improve my site’s SEO?”
  • “How can I get my site listed #1 on Google?”
  • “I added Meta Keywords to my site. What else can I do to improve my ranking?”

Google logo

First, let me note that if by some chance you are still bothering with Meta Keywords, stop wasting your time. See this post from 5 years ago where Google explains how Meta Keywords are completely ignored in their search algorithms.

With that said, the reason that I’m tired of these questions is because they’re really hard to answer. These are BIG questions and the answers can be rather vague. The “problem” is that the most important aspect of SEO is good content.

In theory, if you write good content, you’ll create a good user experience. A good user experience will encourage users to visit your web site again or share their good experience with others. Sharing is huge, because it leads to more visitors and that’s where things can really balloon.

But remember, this is an on-going effort. It can work, but it usually takes a lot of time, effort, and trial and error. You need to understand your site and your audience really well. You need to continually monitor your site and tweak it to fit your users’ needs. You need to put out new content regularly to encourage return visits.

And that’s really only one part of it, because your web site is only one aspect of your web presence. Developing your social media presence has also become a critical aspect of SEO. In fact, they’ve dubbed the term Search Engine Marketing (SEM). You don’t need to sign up for every social network out there, but you do need to be aware of which networks your audience is using so you can engage them there, as well.

Another reason that I hate being asked about SEO is because Google’s search algorithm is perplexing. After designing and building web sites for a decade (and being an active Internet user for far longer), I still don’t understand exactly how Google ranks their results. There a lot of factors that Google considers when you conduct a search – your location, your search history, trending topics, and even your browser (just to name a few), and there’s no way to tell what the magic recipe is to ensure you come out on top.

Visible Google results for 'hockey'

Here’s a quick example: I live in Buffalo, NY and if I search for “hockey” right now , you might expect my hometown’s team, the Buffalo Sabres’ home page to be one of the top results, but it actually gets buried well down the page under what are (probably) less relevant results. And as you can see in the full screen shot, even if your site passes though Google’s rigorous gauntlet and comes out on page 1, you’ve still got to compete with all of the other stuff that gets displayed like paid placement ads, news, images, videos, and maps.

If you thought SEO would be easy, I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news. Search engine optimization is hard and takes a lot of effort, so when you ask me “how to be #1,” don’t expect to get a silver bullet, expect to get some homework.

Blogging For Business, Part 2: Choosing the Right Platform

In my previous post, I wrote about whether corporate blogging is right for your business and broke down the benefits and risks. In this post, I’ll take a look at some of the available platforms.

Simply put, there are a lot to choose from, but all platforms should provide two basic features:

  1. the ability to post content (usually including photos and videos)
  2. the ability to receive and display comments for each post

Those are the basic cornerstones of blogging. However, many platforms (certainly the best) provide additional features that may prove essential for your blog, including:

  1. the ability to customize the look of the blog or choose from a set of themes
  2. the ability to add extra features through plugins (widgets built by third party developers that can be embedded on your blog)
  3. the ability to allow content to be posted by multiple authors
  4. the ability to audit content written by other authors
  5. the ability to moderate comments

There are a slew of platforms that offer these features and many more, and they do it for free. In fact, because there are so many quality platforms to choose from that at Algonquin Studios we’ve actually decided not to implement blogging features into our content management solution, QuantumCMS, thus far, and simply work with clients to pick the best platform for them and integrate the blog with the main site as needed.

So, without further ado, let’s look at some of the best options out there.

WordPress

WordPress is a free blogging platform that offers a ton of built-in features, including all of those I mentioned above. I don’t have the statistics for it, but if WordPress isn’t the #1 blogging platform today, it seems to be on its way. Indeed, this blog as well as my personal blog are built on WordPress and it’s generally my preferred choice, but that doesn’t mean it’s right for everyone.

The reason that I like WordPress in particular is because it has a simple yet rich interface and is constantly updated with bug fixes and enhancements by a dedicated team of developers. They also offer two hosting solutions: you can host your blog with WordPress for free or you can download the codebase and host it on your own server if you need extra flexibility or want to integrate with other sites.

Blogger

Blogger is Google’s blogging platform. Right there, you probably already know what to expect. Recently, Google has taken steps to standardize the interfaces of its most common tools including Mail, Drive, and Blogger. That means if you have used any of Google’s other products, then Blogger should feel pretty comfortable to you.

What I like about Blogger is its simplicity and clean interface. It’s a tool designed for the non-technical user so it’s very easy to use. Despite that, Blogger is a fully featured tool, although it does not have quite as many configuration options as WordPress.

Tumblr

Tumblr is a what I would call a “quick and dirty” blogging platform, but what most people call “social blogging.” Tumblr makes it really easy to share the awesome stuff that you find online or in life. Tumblr blogs are often full of photos, videos, and links. In some ways, it’s more like Twitter than it’s like other blogging platforms, although there’s no limit to what you post.

What I like about Tumblr is just how easy it is to share content. However, I’ve found that the interface is not as intuitive or robust as other platforms. It’s also worth noting that Tumbr blogs tend embody a more casual attitude that is perhaps more appropriate for individuals than most corporate businesses, but if you just want to post photos, videos, and other neat stuff, it’s probably the best fit.

Posterous Spaces

This is another popular solution that I’ve not personally used, but is described as somewhere between WordPress and Tumblr. Like Tumblr, Posterous tries to make posting content really simple (even via email), but has more advanced features like WordPress.

Twitter

Okay, Twitter isn’t truly blogging software, but it is considered “micro blogging.” If the idea of writing content gives you pause, you might consider starting with a Twitter feed, where you never have to write more than 140 characters.

Bringing It All Together

If you decide that you’re up for the challenge, don’t just pick a platform and go. Check out some of the available options first. Take a look at example blogs on each platform and the available features. With just a little legwork, you’ll find one that works for you and you’ll be blogging in no time.

Blogging For Business, Part 1: Is Blogging Right For You?

Over the last few years, I’ve been asked many times by clients about blogging. Blogging is nothing new, of course, but starting a corporate blog is a bit different than starting a personal one.

A corporate blog requires planning, writing guidelines, and, often, an approval process. It also requires some degree of skill and dedication. Can you write meaningful content that engages readers? Can you keep to a schedule and post content even when you are busy and have other priorities?

Benefits

If you can keep up a blog, then you may be rewarded for your efforts. The most obvious benefit is increased awareness of your business and traffic to your web site, which could translate into increased sales or revenue.

Without getting too technical, having a blog and posting meaningful content gives you another way to draw users to your web site. In all likelihood, that user will read your content and never return. That’s part of the nature of blogging. However, if that user finds your blog in a web search and finds the content to be helpful, he may then visit your web site and, potentially, engage your services, buy your products, or refer a friend or colleague to your site.

Having a blog may even elevate the search ranking of your main web site. By cross-linking the main site and your blog, you can potentially build clout in search engine ranking algorithms, especially if your blog generates a lot of traffic.

Risks and Pitfalls

Before jumping in, you should also consider potential risks. What if an author writes something that makes the business look bad? What if a post incites negative comments? Negative feedback could turn away potential customers, degrade your credibility, or even drop your search ranking, but that doesn’t mean you should disable the commenting feature. Instead, you’ll have to determine the appropriate solution for your business.

You should also avoid a classic pitfall: the temptation to use your corporate blog as an extension of the sales department. Users typically stumble upon blog posts when looking for information and overselling your services may turn off users from returning or make them question the credibility of the content.

Tips for Success

In most cases, a corporate blog should provide expert information or advice about topics in the respective field, or provide customers an inside look at a business’ work environment or philosophies.

Don’t put that all on one person’s shoulders. Allowing multiple employees to contribute will lessen the load and will fill your blog with a variety of topics and opinions.

Keep a schedule. Your employees are busy and it may be difficult for them to contribute regularly. Set up a schedule that allows them to contribute as possible, based on workload.

Bringing It All Together

Ultimately, as a business owner or marketer you have to weigh the pros and cons to determine whether a corporate blog is right for you.

Keeping up a blog isn’t easy. You need to be dedicated and willing to write content, often. You also have to be prepared to accept the risks. But, done well, a blog can boost your business and your reputation in the field.

SEO Isn’t Just Google

This post originally appeared on my blog.

Back in October I had the pleasure of speaking at Buffalo’s first WordCamp for WordPress users. Before my presentation I made it a point to sit in on the other sessions that were in the same track as mine.

When discussing SEO, all the sessions I saw mentioned only Google. The Google logo appeared throughout, Google’s PageRank was discussed, Google search result screen captures were used, and so on.

The presenters for an SEO-specific session even went so far as to embed a video of Matt Cutts (from Google) in their presentation and declare that Matt Cutts stated that WordPress is the best platform for SEO.

For context, Matt Cutts appeared at a WordCamp in May, 2009 to discuss his search engine (Google) for an audience using a particular platform (WordPress). Matt even said, WordPress automatically solves a ton of SEO issues. Instead of doing it yourself, you selected WordPress (at about 3:15 in the video). He’s pitching his product to a particular audience to validate their technical decision (he’s just saying they don’t need to manually code these tweaks).

If while watching that video you heard Matt Cutts declare that WordPress is the best platform for SEO, then you are engaging in selection bias.

This same selection bias is also happening when developers work so hard to target Google and not any other search engines. If you convince yourself that Google is the only search engine because you don’t see other search engines in your logs, then perhaps you are the reason you don’t see those other search engines.

To provide context, this table shows the ratio of searches performed by different search engines in August 2012 in the United States. These are from comScore’s August 2012 U.S. Search Engine Rankings report.

Google Sites 66.4%
Microsoft Sites 15.9%
Yahoo! Sites 12.8%
Ask Network 3.2%
AOL, Inc. 1.7%

It’s easy to dismiss 16% when you don’t know how many searches that translates to.

More than 17 billion searches were performed in August 2012. Google ranked at the top (as expected) with 11.3 billion, followed by Microsoft sites (Bing) at 2.7 billion. The breakdown of individual searches per engine follows:

Google Sites 11,317,000,000
Microsoft Sites 2,710,000,000
Yahoo! Sites 2,177,000,000
Ask Network 550,000,000
AOL, Inc. 292,000,000

To put this another way, for every four (ok, just over) searches using Google, there is another search done in Bing. For every five searches using Google, there is another one done using Yahoo.

If your logs don’t reflect those ratios in search engines feeding your site, then you need to consider if you are focusing too hard on Google to the detriment of other search engines.

Now let’s take this out of the United States.

Considering Bing’s partnership with the Chinese search engine Baidu, contrasted with Google’s battles with the Chinese government, it might be a matter of time before Bing tops Google for Asian searches. Given the size of the Asian market (over half a billion users), if you do any business there it might warrant paying attention to both Baidu and Bing.

Related

Confusion in Recent Google Updates

This post originally appeared on my blog.

Google pushed out some updates recently which have had SEO experts and spammers, as well as the average web developer or content author, a bit confused. It seems that some sites have been losing traffic and attributing the change to the wrong update. It also seems that some of this has percolated up to my clients in the form of fear-mongering and misinformation, so I’ll try to provide a quick overview of what has happened.

Exact Match Domains (EMD)

For years identifying a keyword-stuffed domain name for your product or service was considered the coup de grace of SEO. Frankly, on Google, this was true. For instance if my company, Algonquin Studios, wanted to rank highly for the search phrases web design buffalo or buffalo web design then I might register the domains WebDesignBuffalo.com and BuffaloWebDesign.com. I could even register nearby cities, like RochesterWebDesign.com, TorontoWebDesign.com, ClevelandWebDesign.com, and so on, with the intent to drive traffic to my Buffalo-based business.

Google has finally taken steps to prevent that decidedly spammy user-unfriendly practice. With the EMD update, Google will look at the domain name and compare the rest of the site. If the site is a spammy, keyword-stuffing, redirection mess, then it will probably be penalized. If the domain name matches my company name, product or service and (for this example) is located in the area specified by the domain, then it will probably not experience any change.

In all, Google expects this will affect 0.6% of English-US queries.

Panda/Penguin

While spammers panicked about this change, some not spammy sites noticed a change at about the same time. This may have been due to Panda and Penguin updates that rolled out around the same time and have been rolling out all along.

Considering the Panda update was affecting 2.4% of English search queries, that’s already a factor of four more of an impact than the EMD update. Considering that Google pushes out updates all the time, tracing one single update to any change in your Google result position is going to be tough.

A couple tweets from Matt Cutts, head of the web spam team at Google, help cut to the source instead of relying on SEO-middle-men to misrepresent the feedback:

This one details the number of algorithm changes that regularly happen:

The trick is trying to recognize what on your site might have been read as spam and adjust it to be user-friendly, not to try to tweak your site to beat an ever-changing algorithm.

Disavowing Links

This one ranks as confusion for a web developer like me.

The only feature Google has added that I think takes potential fun away from blogs (or any site that allows commenting) is the tool to disavow links. This tool allows a site owner to essentially tell Google not to count links pointing at it when figuring PageRank.

One reason I don’t like it is that it allows sites that have engaged in black-hat SEO tactics and have ultimately been penalized by Google to undo the now-negative effects of paid links, link exchanges and other link schemes that violate Google’s terms. While this is good for sites that have been taken to the cleaners by SEO scammers, I still don’t like how easily they could be excused.

Another reason I don’t like it is that all those liars, cheaters, scammers, spammers, thieves and crooks who have spam-posted to my blog can go and disassociate those now-negative links to their sites. Sadly, associating their sites with filth of the lowest order by careful keyword linking (as I have done at the start of this paragaph) is the only ammo I have with which to take pot-shots at their spam juggernauts.

This new tool means you might not see spammers harassing you to remove their own spammy comments from your blogs. Which is unfortunate, because ignoring them seems only fair.

Just this morning Matt Cutts tweeted a link to a Q&A to answer some questions about the tool:

The post includes some answers intended to address concerns like mine.

Meta Keywords, Redux

As I have said again and again, the use of meta keywords is pointless in all search engines, but especially in Google. This doesn’t stop SEO snake-oil salesmen from misrepresenting a recent Google update to their prospects.

Last month Google announced its news keywords meta tag, which does not follow the same syntax that traditional (and ignored) keyword meta tags follow. An example of the new syntax:

meta name="news_keywords" content="World Cup, Brazil 2014, Spain vs Netherlands"

From the announcement, you can see this is clearly targeted at news outlets and publishers that are picked up by Google News (your blog about cats or your drunk driving lawyer web site won’t benefit):

The goal is simple: empower news writers to express their stories freely while helping Google News to properly understand and classify that content so that it’s discoverable by our wide audience of users.

For further proof, the documentation for this feature is in the Google News publishers help section.

In short, unless your site is a valid news site, don’t get talked into using this feature and fire the SEO team that tries to sell you on it.

Related

Getting Started with Google Analytics

Google Analytics is an incredibly powerful asset for marketers, site administrators, and business owners, but with a seemingly infinite quantity of data points, graphs, segments, and reports, it can be completely overwhelming.

At Algonquin Studios, we encourage all of our clients to sign up for Google Analytics because of its many benefits and because it’s free–it really is a no-brainer–but that’s just the first step. Once you’ve signed up, then what?

Step 1: Understand Your Web Site

In order to use Google Analytics successfully, you need answer one big, general question about your web site:

What is the purpose of your web site? Why does it exist?

At this point, there’s nearly universal agreement that if you run a business, program, charitable organization, or pretty much anything else, you need a web site. But why? Are you hoping to sell products, promote to a larger audience, or just make it easier for people to find your phone number? There could be any number of reasons and you may have many, but, in order to get the most out of Analytics, you need to understand what they are.

It’s also useful to identify your target audience. What group of individuals are you hoping will access your web site? Doctors, grandmothers, hockey players, men in general? Try to be as specific as possible.

Step 2: Identify Your Goals

Let’s say that you’re a partner at a law firm and you’ve identified that the main purposes of your site are generating leads and reinforcing your firm’s reputation. From there, you can identify the following goals:

  1. Build interest by providing information about services and related content.
  2. Capture leads (via email or phone).
  3. Reinforce qualifications through firm history and accomplishments.

Step 3: Pick Your Measurement Tools

At this point, you can determine the data points and reports in Google Analytics that will help you measure the success of your site. These are often referred to as Key Performance Indicators or KPI. For example, here are some indicators that could be useful to your sample law firm:

Time on Site/Page – Since many of your goals are related to your site visitors reading content, you can examine how much time they’re are spending on your site and its individual pages to determine if they’re actively engaging with that content. It will be especially important to review the time spent on the pages you’ve deemed most crucial to your goals of building interest, capturing leads, and reinforcing your qualifications.

Bounce Rate – Another indicator that will show whether users are actively viewing pages and continuing to interact with your site is Bounce Rate. Your bounce rate is the percentage of visits that only include one page view. A low bounce rate indicates that your visitors are viewing several pages before exiting and implies that they are interested in your content and and engaging with it in a meaningful way.

Visitor Loyalty – If your law firm is attempting to reinforce its qualifications, you may expect to see a high percentage of return visitors. Strong visitor loyalty implies that your content is engaging and can help strengthen your position as a trusted resource. However, a high percentage of new visitors implies that a lot of potential clients are viewing your site. In general, it’s healthy to have a mix of each visitor type.

Keywords – The Keywords report identifies the search terms that drove users to your site from Google or other search engines. While returning visitors will probably access your site directly or search for your firm name, new visitors may be searching for services that you provide or for a firm in your geographic location. If you’re not seeing the results you expect, this indicator may show that you need to adjust your content to include better search terms.

Location – Geography-based reports and segments allow you to see where your users are located. This can be particularly important if you are targeting users from a specific area and may even influence your traditional marketing initiatives.

Step 4: Set Targets

Once you’ve determined which indicators will most accurately help you to measure success, you should set appropriate targets for each goal. These targets may be for a day, week, month, or longer, or they may even be for a specific time of the day.

Determining what your targets should be may not be easy at first, but you’ll get a feel for it over time. The key is to have a  goal number to work towards and compare against. The actual numbers are less important than the trends you’re seeing in the data.

Step 5: Identify Segments

If you want to take it a step further, try identifying any segments that could be applied to make certain reports more valuable. For example, you could segment the Landing Pages report by Keyword to see the keywords that are driving users to your top entrance pages.

Step 6: Review Your Data Regularly

There are many ways that you can utilize Google Analytics to measure your data. You can set up Goals, Alerts, Custom Reports, Advanced Segments, or Filters. You can even create reports that are automatically emailed to you on a regular basis. Or you can simply log into Google Analytics and review the default reports, focusing on the KPI that you’ve determined are important.

The key is reviewing your data on a regular basis. You can evaluate the success of your goals by measuring your KPI for a given period and then comparing them against past performance. Remember to focus on the trends, not the actual numbers.

Step 7: Adjust Your Site as Needed

As you review your data, you may identify areas of your site that need to be updated to improve user engagement or search engine performance. Ideally, you’ll see trends that reflect site growth and success, but you’ll need to set aside time to review the data and update the site on a regular basis.

Conclusion

Google Analytics can be a powerful tool, but to get the most out of it you need to know where to begin. Understanding your site and setting goals will get you on the right track. Then, you just need to pick your key indicators, set your targets, and get analyzing. Easy, right?

If you are new to Google Analytics, I highly recommend checking out Google’s educational library, but you should also consider just logging in and getting your hands dirty. It may seem overwhelming at first, but if you stick with it, the rewards will be well worth it.

Google Penguin, a Focus on Better Content

In late April Google activated new ranking algorithm changes intended to help rid the world of sites and blogs that link excessively, with no regard for quality; engage in keyword stuffing; an/or publish lots of meaningless content in order to get search engine traffic.

Whenever Google rolls out changes to their search/ranking algorithms, a lot of people take notice. And a lot of those people also freak out – I’ve heard stories of small businesses laying off workers in response to the Penguin changes – but I’m pretty happy about them (well, what I know about them so far), and here’s why:

They put the focus on quality content writing.

No more clogging your content with keywords, just for keyword clogging sake. Now SEO is about giving your site visitors relevant information in a clear, concise manner and using keywords when appropriate. Try to cram more in there than necessary and you might even get penalized or removed from the search results, altogether. Focusing on useful, helpful, and educational content that provides real value will keep visitors interested and coming back for more and now, maybe more than ever, it will also keep search engines happy. This is a beautiful thing.

As a writer in the digital world, I’ve spent years arguing for relevant, engaging content that really deserves to be published. At a former job, which I held from 2002-2008, my role went from that of copywriter, editor, and proofreader to something more akin to assembly line worker –  just another cog in the machine, pushing blog posts, articles and advertising copy down the pipe toward publication without any concern for quality or content. It wasn’t that I stopped caring about the work I was producing; but my bosses and our clients certainly did. More was better, cheap SEO was the way to get traffic, and, eventually, my entire department was eliminated as management shifted to a “quantity over quality” mindset that didn’t see the benefit in an editorial department.

With Google bringing us all back to well-written, truly informative content, vindication is mine! Gosh, I love being right.

What do you think of the Penguin updates? Is your company finding it difficult to adjust to the changes or has your focus always been giving the people what they want (quality!) rather than caving to the SEO gods (optimization at all costs!)?

Check out some related info:

  • Good Design Starts with Good Content – Our report on the balance between design and content details ways to ensure you’re providing site visitors with quality, readable content that’s supported by successful web design.
  • SEO Myths Debunked – We cover our favorite myths and point out how to spot peddlers of misinformation.
  • Does Google take manual action on webspam? – Answers from Matt Cutts, Head of Google’s webspam team.
  • Five Common Mistakes in SEO – With special attention paid to Mistake # 4, which starts around the 4:45 minute mark.
  • Google’s Webmaster Guidelines – Following Google’s design and content, technical, and quality guidelines will help the search engine find, index, and rank your site.

Google Under the Magnifying Glass Again

Judiciary Committee

Author: Terri Swiatek 10/5/2011

There’s been a lot of scrutiny over corporate giant Google and its business practices as of late. The internet search and search-advertising company has been under fire from a number of competitors, spurring a series of Federal Trade Commission and European Union investigations over the past year. The most recent hearing, held 2 weeks ago, covered ‘The Power of Google: Serving Consumers or Threatening Competition?’   (View the full live webcast of the hearing above).

Testimony came from Google and its competitors, as well as the Senate Judiciary Committee, including: Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman of Google Inc.;  Jeff Katz , CEO of Nextag; Jeremy Stoppelman, Co-Founder and CEO of Yelp Inc.; Thomas Barnett, Partner of Covington & Burling LLP; and Susan A. Creighton, Partner of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, PC.

The basic argument against Google is that, as its business interests have diversified over time, its market dominance in the search and search-advertising industries presents a serious conflict of interest. Competitors claim it’s no longer in Google’s financial interests to simply present the most relevant results to a user’s search query but to first present results that favor other Google properties and partners-where Google benefits from ad revenue. Google counters this charge, saying their goal is to always present the best answer to a search query, and if possible, to calculate and present that answer even if that means the consumer doesn’t need to click through to another site. For example, if someone searches “Macy’s,” Google’s studies indicate that, in most cases, the user is looking for a map with the location of a brick-and-mortar store; so the results page immediately displays a Google Places map. This is interesting because Google has changed, over time, from being a “GPS of the web” to a destination site itself.

The example below, recreated from one presented by Jeffrey Katz, illustrates how the relationships Google has with other businesses get preference and dominate the first half of a search results page. Paid ads are highlighted in green and Google Places and “related searches” are highlighted in red.

Washing Machine Query

I did my own, similar search query for “wedding dresses” and while three results did manage to surface to the top, the search results are still pretty Google-dominated.

Wedding Dresses Query

Google’s detractors also claim that the company has practiced improper scraping of content (Yelp’s accusations) and is using its expanding scale and volume to create unfair and anti-competitive barriers for its rivals (Microsoft’s complaints).

Interestingly enough, Jeffrey Katz (PDF) stated that 65% of Nextag’s search referrals come from Google and Jeremy Stoppleman (PDF) stated 75% of Yelp’s overall traffic came from Google, in some way. These highly successful companies are clearly benefiting from Google’s free organic listings as well as paid placement relationships, so why are they being so highly critical of Google’s business practices?

I think it’s pretty obvious that these companies trusted Google to act in a specific manner and designed critical parts of their business around those practices and technologies. These companies placed an enormous amount of trust in a single customer acquisition channel they had no real control over and now, when Google has decided to change the rules, they find themselves at a severe disadvantage. But it should be obvious that an unbalanced customer acquisition strategy can be a hindrance to any company’s sustainable growth; you wouldn’t build a stock portfolio and invest 75% of your money in just one company, would you?

In fact, Google changes the game a lot and has been doing so for awhile. According to Eric Schmidt (PDF), Google’s Executive Chairman, they change their ‘proprietary’ search algorithm slightly every 12 hours and did so over 500 times last year. When you’re playing on the home field and you happen to pay the referee’s salary, the question of a fair game is certainly debatable. But when have free markets ever been fair?

I do believe Google moved ahead of its competition because it was innovative and had the best results in the marketplace. The consumer chose Google more than its competitors, so they rose above the others. But while Google is clearly in the business of ranking, it has aggressively expanded into many other competitive areas and, while there are certainly alternative search and search-advertising companies out there, the issue comes down to scale. While Bing is Google’s biggest competitor in the US its 30% market share doesn’t even come close to Google’s 65% (ComScore). In the mobile market Google has 97% share and in the EU, Google takes the cake with 80% of regular search. At that scale it’s understandable that competitors and government entities would be concerned about reduced consumer choice, control of information, and stifling innovation. Google sits on the cusp of becoming a monopoly (Susan Creighton argues it’s not there quite yet (PDF)), which would bring the Sherman Act and other anti-trust laws into play.

Furthermore, Google’s apparent “bigness” obscures the fact that it lacks anything resembling monopoly power. Monopoly power has long been defined in the courts as the power to exclude competition or to control price . . . Google has neither power. – Susan Creighton

So end game, what can Google and the industry do to avoid intrusive and costly regulation of the internet search industry?

Over the past few years we’ve seen a trend that has the government stepping in to fix broken industries like banking and healthcare-do we really want it to end up going down that path? The panels were clearly looking to Google, and to its competitors, for suggestions of changes that could be made to avoid government interference or additional legislation and only a handful were offered. Could Google self-regulate or should there be some type of collective committee? Or would that be unfair to Google, a company that’s worked so hard to become a success? Should the government instigate more in-depth, private investigations to determine if Google is unfairly favoring the search results that make it the most money?

I don’t know about you but I certainly don’t want my search engine to become a utility; paying for a free-to-consumers service that works so well as is definitely isn’t an attractive option!

We Really Still Have to Debunk Bad SEO?

Author: Adrian Roselli  9/27/11

Image of bottle of SEO snake oil.I’ve been doing this web thing from the start (sort of — I did not have a NeXT machine and a guy named Tim in my living room) and I’ve watched how people have clamored to have their web sites discovered on the web. As the web grew and search engines emerged, people started trying new ways to get listed in these new automated directories, and so began the scourge of the Search Engine Optimization (SEO) peddler.

The web magazine .Net posted what to me is a surprising article this week (surprising in that I thought we all knew this stuff): The top 10 SEO myths. I am going to recap them here, although you should go to the article itself for more detail and the full list of reader comments. Remember, these are myths, which means they are not true.

  1. Satisfaction, guaranteed;
  2. A high Google PageRank = high ranking;
  3. Endorsed by Google;
  4. Meta tag keywords matter;
  5. Cheat your way to the top;
  6. Keywords? Cram ‘em in;
  7. Spending money on Google AdWords boosts your rankings;
  8. Land here;
  9. Set it and forget it;
  10. Rankings aren’t the only fruit.

The problem here is that for those of us who know better, this is a list that could easily be ten years old (with a couple obvious exceptions, like the reference to AdWords). For those who don’t know better or who haven’t had the experience, this might be new stuff. For our clients, this is almost always new stuff and SEO snake oil salesmen capitalize on that lack of knowledge to sell false promises and packs of lies. One of my colleagues recently had to pull one of our clients back from the brink and his ongoing frustration is evident in his own retelling:

I have a client who recently ended an SEO engagement with another firm because they wouldn’t explain how they executed their strategies. Their response to his inquiry was to ask for $6,000 / month, up from $2,000 / month for the same work in two new keywords.

This kind of thing happens all the time. I recently ran into another SEO “guru” selling his wares by promising to keep a site’s meta tags up-to-date through a monthly payment plan. When I explained that Google doesn’t use meta tags in ranking, his response was that I was wrong. When I pointed him to a two-year-old official Google video where a Google representative explains that meta tags are not used, his response was to state that he believed Google still uses them because he sees results from his work. My client was smart enough to end that engagement, but not all are.

Because I cannot protect my clients in person all the time, I have tried to write materials to educate them. For our content management system, QuantumCMS, I have posted tips for our clients, sometimes as a reaction to an SEO salesman sniffing around and sometimes to try to head that off. A couple examples:

Along with these client-facing tips I sometimes get frustrated enough to write posts like this, trying to remind people that SEO is not some magical rocket surgery and that those who claim it is should be ignored. I’ve picked a couple you may read if you are so inclined:

And because I still have to cite this meta tags video far far too often, I figured I’d just re-embed it here:

Related

My ire doesn’t stop at SEO self-proclaimed-gurus. I also think social media self-proclaimed-gurus are just the latest incarnation of that evil. Some examples:

Your Site Speed to Affect Its Google Rank

Originally posted on April 12, 2010 by Adrian Roselli, on his personal blog.

Google LogoIf you’ve been paying attention to the world of SEO and the intersection with Google, then you may have heard a few months back that Google was considering using the speed of a site to affect a site’s rankings. Google has already factored in the speed of a site when considering its AdWords quality score.

On Friday, Google announced that it is now implementing site speed as a factor in organic search rankings. What this means is that if your site is an extremely heavy download or just takes too long to draw, then it may be penalized in the organic search listings.

While Google doesn’t explicitly define site speed, it’s safe to assume that it is a combination of overall page size (including files) and render time (including server response and time to draw the page). For those developers who seem incapable of posting anything smaller than a 1Mb image in the banner, or slimming down their HTML be removing all the extraneous cruft, this is motivation to start working on those optimization skills, even if their sites don’t feel the wrath of the penalty.

Some things to keep in mind:

  • Currently only 1% of search queries are affected by the site speed.
  • There are over 200 hundred factors used in determining page rank, and this one isn’t being weighted to high that it kicks out the major ones.
  • It currently only applies to visitors searching in English (although you can expect to see them change that over time).
  • It launched a few weeks back, so if your site hasn’t changed in its search engine rankings, you are probably safe.
  • Google links to a number of tools to test the speed if your site. Check out the links at code.google.com/speed/tools.html.
  • Nealry four months old now, Google Site Performance is an experimental Google Webmaster Tools Labs feature that shows you latency information about your site.

Hopefully few of you are concerned by this. If you are following best practices, you are already striving to have your public-facing sites draw quickly. Not only does this do things like reduce the load on your servers, it also cuts down on your overall bandwidth costs. An additional advantage is that you don’t have to rely on your end user having a fast computer, lots of RAM (or swap space on the drive), and a fast connection. Given how many people surf in corporate environments that aren’t exactly cutting edge, this is just good practice.

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