Friday, 25 February 2011

Google changes search algorithms

Google's official blog has announced a notable change in the ranking algorithms being used by the search engine, which are initially being introduced on but will eventually affect all versions of Google search.

Google says that the latest change will impact 11.8% of their search queries and it is designed to reduce rankings for low-quality sites. These are sites which Google considers are low-value for users, such as those that copy content from other websites or sites that are just 'not very useful'. At the same time, Google says it will provide better rankings for high-quality sites, namely sites with original content and information such as research, in-depth reports, 'thoughtful analysis and so on'.

This change is in response to growing criticism in recent months about the quality of the search results being presented by Google and the growth of 'content spam' to try to manipulate ranking positions. It remains to be seen how noticeable these changes are for most searchers and websites that generate visitor traffic from Google. However, this change is a restatement of Google's core principles and an adjustment to reflect what they hope are the best results for users.



Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Making websites mobile-friendly

The Google Webmaster blog has posted some advice about making websites mobile friendly, in response to an increasing number of questions being posted by website owners and developers.

The blog explains the how the current mix of mobile phones can access the Internet, between traditional mobile phones (i.e. phones with browsers that cannot render normal desktop webpages) and the newer trend of 'Smartphones' (which are phones with browsers that render normal desktop pages, at least to some extent, such as Blackberry devices, iPhones and Android phones).

Google uses 2 types of search engine 'crawler' that are relevant to mobiles: Googlebot and Googlebot-Mobile. Googlebot crawls desktop-browser type of webpages and content embedded in them and Googlebot-Mobile crawls mobile content. The blog post explains how to recognise and serve appropriate content to the Googlebot-Mobile.

Google says they expect smartphones to handle desktop experience content, so there is no real need for mobile-specific effort from webmasters. However, for many websites it may still make sense for the content to be formatted differently for smartphones, and the decision to do so should be based on how website owners can best serve their users.

Most websites currently have only one version of their content, namely in HTML that is designed for desktop web browsers. This means all browsers access the content from the same URL. These websites may not be serving traditional mobile phone users and the quality experienced by their smartphone users depends on the mobile browser they are using and it could be as good as browsing from the desktop.

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Thursday, 17 February 2011

Microsoft updates PPC trademark guidelines

Microsoft have emailed PPC advertisers to notify them of changes to their trademark policy in North America, and have also posted updates online. Microsoft says that 'to come in line with search industry practices' - i.e. Google - they will cease editorial investigations from 3rd March into complaints about trademarks used as keywords to trigger ads on Bing & Yahoo! Search in the United States and Canada.

This change removes the involvement of Microsoft from the practice of bidding against trademarked terms, and they now say that if there is concern that an advertiser may be using a trademark keyword inappropriately, the trademark owner should contact the advertiser directly.

Microsoft will still investigate complaints relating to alleged trademark violations in advert text, but will continue to allow fair use of trademarks in ad text. They say that advertisers are responsible for ensuring that their use of keywords and ad content, including trademarks and logos, does not infringe or violate the intellectual property rights of others.

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Tuesday, 15 February 2011

JC Penney rankings expose "black hat" SEO techniques

A lengthy article by the New York Times investigates the 'Dirty Little Secrets of Search', based on the recent experience of the JC Penney store in the US. It reports how the store's website came to dominate many searches for product items that they sell, even though they might not be the 'best fit' for the searcher.

An online marketing consultant was asked to investigate the issue and claimed that the 'black hat' techniques being used by JC Penney was 'the most ambitious attempt to game Google’s search results that he has ever seen'. 'Black hat' optimisation describes the range of techniques that could be described as 'spamming' or methods that contravene Google's standards when targeting search engine rankings.

In this case, the JC Penney site has benefitted from some extensive link development tactics whereby their agency paid to have thousands of links placed on hundreds of sites scattered around the web, all of which lead directly to A spokeswoman for J. C. Penney, is quoted as saying: “J. C. Penney did not authorize, and we were not involved with or aware of, the posting of the links that you sent to us, as it is against our natural search policies. We are working to have the links taken down.”

Matt Cutts at Google was shown the evidence and confirmed that the 'link farm' techniques being used violated Google's guidelines and that 'corrective action' was being taken. Apparently Cutts says that Google had detected previous guidelines violations related to on 3 occasions, most recently last November. Each time, steps were taken that reduced Penney’s search results but Google did not later “circle back” to the company to see if it was still breaking the rules. He and his team had missed this recent campaign of paid links, which he said had been up and running for the last three to four months.

JC Penney have since reacted to their recent reversal of ranking fortune by, among other things, firing its search engine consulting firm, SearchDex.

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Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Google AdWords displays longer headlines

The Google AdWords blog has announced a new test of the advert format so that longer headlines are appearing on some ads that appear above the search results on Google. For some ads where each line appears to be a distinct sentence and ends in the proper punctuation, the first description line is moved to the headline and separated by a hyphen. As a result, some top placement ads will have longer headlines.

Google says that in testing they have found that the longer headline results in higher clickthrough rate for those ads, as well as other top ads that appear beside them. Therefore they say it creates a better experience for users by highlighting more information in the ad (and of course more revenue for Google too!).

While only some ads will be shown with the longer headline, advertisers can now increase their chances of this happening by ensuring that each line of the ad appears to be a distinct sentence and ends in the proper punctuation (e.g., a period or a question mark).



Thursday, 3 February 2011

Google accuses Microsoft of 'cheating'

The surprising news of this week is the claim by Google that Microsoft has been 'cheating' by taking search results from Google to use on their Bing search engine. The story was first broken on Search Engine Land and has quickly developed into a war of words between the two leading search engines.

The articles reports that Google has recently run a sting operation against Bing that, it says, proves the Microsoft search engine has been watching what people search for on Google and the sites they select from Google’s results. They have then used that information to improve Bing’s own search listings.

Bing doesn’t deny this and say that use 'multiple signals and approaches' which seems to include tracking search activity through the Internet Explorer browser and the Bing toolbar. They accuse Google of manipulating their search results to identify one element of Bing's search criteria, and to time the exposure of the news to coincide with a Microsoft event to discuss the future of search.

This story is already generating much news and blog comment and is likely to run for some time as the two search giants exchange claims and counter-claims.

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Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Web marketing newsletter published for February

The latest issue of our monthly Web Search & Marketing newsletter has been published for February.

This month begins a two-part look at Google Places and why this is an important feature for a business, particularly those targeting a local market. This issue covers the process of claiming or adding a business listing, and the verification process, while next month will look at the optimisation of the listing to add information for users and search engines.

This month's newsletter also reviews two of the leading news stories from the search market in the past month - firstly, the introduction of Bing's search results on the Yahoo search engine, and also the surprise appointment of Google's co-founder, Larry Page, as the new CEO of the business.

If you want to sign up for future issues of this newsletter, please do so by using the form at the bottom of this page. To view back issues of this regular newsletter you can see the archive by date or by subject.