The Fresh Egg blog
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September saw another Google update that was quietly mentioned as a casual aside before going on to have some significant effects on the search landscape: the possible return of a much-maligned search entity and the big two scrapping in the press and social media spheres once more.
Matt Cutts, head of webspam at Google, on Twitter [source]:
"Minor weather report: small upcoming Google algo change will reduce low-quality 'exact match' domains in search results"
Cutts remarking on “minor weather reports” often has the impact of Michael Fish’s infamous assessment of the UK hurricane of 1987. In this case, the effects of the “exact match domain” update split commentary in the SEO field, with some reporting major flatlines of site traffic and others not seeing much impact at all.
Dr Peter Meyers from SEOmoz commented that they had measured “a 24-hour drop in EMD influence from 3.58% to 3.21%. This represents a day-over-day change of 10.3%” (full article here).
With the usual tales of woe and fist-shaking at Google in the forums, early research was fogged by no clear correlation between exact matches, matches for brand and the extent of positional drops. What started to emerge was a trend of sites ranking by virtue of exact match alone seeing some of the biggest drops. Thus indicating that Google is further fine-tuning its list of positive signals for site assessment.
Barry Schwartz from Search Engine Roundtable [source] on the return of a known SEO criminal:
"Everyone knows Google stopped using the meta keywords tag ages ago. They simply ignore it and, because of that, many SEOs don't bother to use it.
“But yesterday Google announced they will begin using it for Google News publishers in the form of the news_keywords metatag."
The question “how many meta keywords do I need?” often triggers a wry smile (or a facepalm moment) from SEOs. As Barry notes, given the history of outright abuse that led to this tag field being deprecated then sent to electronic Coventry by Google, it’s surprising to see the announcement that a keyword field will now be included. However, this is only for approved Google News feeds, which have already been run through a fairly stringent approval process.
It’s unlikely that the type of news outlets that have an approved feed are the sort that would resort to outright spamming of a news keyword field with irrelevant tags or risk Google dropping the feed should they discover abuse. It’s also unlikely that Google hasn't considered monitoring potential misuse given the history of keyword fields in general.
Michael Smethurst from the BBC Research and Development Blog [source] reiterates something that’s been mooted about the future of semantic search:
"If you're prepared to accept anecdote as evidence and say I'm not alone in this, and if those sites can express this information semantically and search engines can extract this information and present it directly on search results... then why would many people ever have to visit the website? The end result would be less visitors to the website ..."
It’s refreshing to see the BBC keeping pace of SEO, and the article cited serves as both a useful introduction to SEO for the non-technical as well as a good review of the 'semantic web' technologies that Google et al are pursuing to make search results more meaningful for users.
Michael’s comments relate to the fact that many people search programme names solely for the schedule time – information that would appear in knowledge graph results from semantic search and encourage no potential clickthrough. The latter is something that has been a passing concern for webmasters extrapolating recent developments.
Will this mean that more value will be placed on clickthrough? What sort of content will be necessary to entice web users? What happens to sites using heavy advertising that doesn’t tag data for microformats and knowledge graphs? There’s a potential game changer for search emerging here.
The Bing team [source] upping the ante in the search engine wars with its Bing It On campaign:
"… the research shows that people chose Bing web search results over Google nearly 2:1 in blind comparison tests."
The scientific should note that this isn’t a double blind test, so bias on the part of the test administrators could still be passed to the subjects.
Matt Cutts tweeted a more pointed riposte highlighting that "Bingiton.com" was found more readily in Google than in Bing (presumably this was before the EMD update kicked in). Most reasonably independent SEOs saw this as a bit of marketing puff: it was unlikely Bing was going to push a product that didn’t find something favourable about Bing and, with Google hitting the television with their advice of sending free handbags to influential bloggers (not an attempt to gain links to manipulate the search algorithm, no siree), it was only a question of time before Bing replied with its own PR piece.
Will there be further escalation? Perhaps it’s time for some leading personalities from each company to go face-to-face to finally settle the question of who is best. Paintball? Online multiplayer? Mud wrestling?