The Fresh Egg blog
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In The Waste Land, T.S. Eliot began by saying “April is the cruellest month”. In SEO terms, Google ushered a series of updates, mistakenly categorising some websites as “parked domains” along the way, but also updating the Panda filter and issuing a set of changes know as the “over optimisation penalty” . . . yes, the Penguin had landed.
As well as causing a shake-up and review in what sites were doing to attract links, the fall-out in the SEO landscape was profound. Yes, there were complaints and examples of where the new results didn’t make a great deal of sense based on Google’s quality guidelines, but most tend to think the new initiatives have made good on many calls for the search engine to clean up the search results. Expect some of the kinks to be ironed out in future tweaks and revisions, and get working on a content strategy for your visitors, if you haven’t got one in place already . . .
Rand Fishkin, CEO of SEO Moz [source], on the ugly prospect of “negative SEO”…
"I'd like to offer up Moz or my personal website, randfishkin.com as targets for these efforts. I think it would be fascinating and revealing if external link manipulation could hurt either one."
This was in response to Traffic Planet members claiming to have taken out Dan Thies’ site seofaststart largely based on comments he made on Twitter, and to prove that the new Google updates had opened doors to aggressive “negative SEO” tactics. By building millions of exact match anchor text links to Dan’s name and his business keywords, Traffic Planet members claimed to have tanked the rankings for his site. Thies claims that a badly-configured Wordpress theme boosting sitewide links is the more likely culprit, but nonetheless received a warning message from Google Webmaster Tools concerning “unnatural site links” which may have been caused by the experiment.
Rand Fishkin gamely volunteered his personal site (and, indeed, SEO Moz itself) as another target to prove the concept . . . however the current theory is that long-established and high visibility sites may either be relatively untouchable, or require exponentially more “bad links” to be created than may be feasible, even for the Traffic Plant forum, in a short space of time. Rand’s close relationship with Matt Cutts has also raised the prospect of “special protection” by the head of Google’s web spam team!
It’s interesting to note however, that Google’s own policy on this has changed from denying that any activity by a competitor can impact on a site . . . to saying that it’s highly unlikely . . . to not really commenting on the issue at all. Although actual “proof” from the seofaststart experiment isn’t conclusive, SEOs are watching high profile brands and the growth of negative SEO services with interest.
Google Spam Form [source], the plot thickens…
"If your site was affected by the "Penguin" webspam algorithm update on April 24th, 2012, and you don't think it should have been affected, please give us more details below."
With the above in mind, Matt Cutts announced on Twitter that a web form existed to flag up sites that felt they had been wrongly targeted by the new Penguin update. Although Google has used form-submitted feedback and spam flagging before as correlations to changes, there definitely seems to be something wrong with search quality results at the moment, with some high volume keyword searches returning sites with little or no content. One theory is that signals from the Penguin update over-rode previous spam flag signals indexed by Panda, thus allowing some “pandalised” sites to re-emerge in SERPs. With the release of the reconsideration form, a future set of tweaks and evaluations may be in the works.
Matt Cutts, Head of Web Spam, Google [source], on Google's recommendations for excellent web design for site visitors…
"Rather than scrolling down the page past a slew of ads, users want to see content right away."
This was actually announced in January, as part of the Page Layout Update, but in April Google launched a visual comparison product for credit cards. Previously this has been a Google text-based service that sat on top of paying PPC ads for card comparison terms, but in April, got shuffled to underneath the top three paid search terms, but expanded with a visual component.
This now means that on a standard 1068 pixel-high monitor, a whole two organic search terms (or one-and-a-half if you have some SERPs plug-ins enabled) are visible, crammed into the bottom of the page (past a “slew of ads”). Try it yourself.
This doesn’t seem entirely in keeping with Google’s own ideology here; there have been several comments already on Webmaster Help forum (possibly by those whose sites have been hit for featuring heavy advertising) that organic results don’t exactly bear out this philosophy. However, with Google heavily promoting microformats, markup and the development of the semantic web, do they have another development up their sleeve to address this?
Jonathan Simon, Webmaster Trends Analyst, Google [source], on some housekeeping in the Webmaster Tools console …
"As a result of our latest round of spring cleaning, we'll be removing the Subscriber stats feature, the Create robots.txt tool, and the Site performance feature in the next two weeks."
Although it can be argued that much of the Webmaster Tools data could be taken with a pinch of salt, one of the more useful features for SEOs was the site speed tool. Although there are many third-party tools which can assess the load speed of a site or individual pages, none of these usually tend to agree on a given result based on how they analyse the URI and where they ping it from . . . so it was always useful to get Google’s own assessment of load speed, especially as it was explicit that site speed was a consideration in the algorithm.
With Google still maintaining that speed is a component of the ranking assessment (as well as being an important factor in user bounce rate), webmasters need to be using a diverse range of tools to be assessing site performance if they aren’t already. It will also be interesting to see what Bing’s developments for site owners and SEOs will bring to the table with its new toolbox.
Felicty Crouch, Branded3 [source], on the influence of Twitter on SERPs results...
"...we have found that there is strong correlation between the amount of tweets about a URL, and its Google ranking"
It’s nice to know that at least some things aren’t changing quite so fast. This new study confirms findings by SEO Moz in early 2011, and by our very own Head of Social Media, Paul Chaloner, in March 2011, that suggested tweets had a major influence on ranking positions for some pages. “Tweetserping”, as it became known, enabled pages not only to enter the Google index rapidly, but gain prominent search positions with as little as 130 tweets.
Anon, SEO Site Check Up [source], on a secret method of site white listing…
"Thankfully, changes in the site configuration, known as ‘canonization’, can be used to inform the Google spiders of which URLs are more important."
Every industry has its jargon, but it’s important to know the difference between canonicalization (telling a search engine which page is the authoritative version of multiple instances) and canonization, which would involve your website performing at least two posthumous miracles (re-indexing after a manual penalty sadly not one of them, according to Vatican sources).