The Search News Round Up: Webmaster Tools Link Counts Drop, New Disavow Details, Google Launches Enhanced Adwords, Matt Cutts Defends PageRank, and More

There’s plenty of search news to get through today, so without further ado here is this week’s round up.

Link counts drop in Google Webmaster Tools

Many webmasters grew concerned this week after logging into Google Webmaster Tools and finding up to 75% of their site’s acquired links completely missing. Many SEOs turned to the Webmaster Help forum to alert others to the problem, which Google’s John Miller confirmed as a glitch the corporation was aware of, and working to fix.

Further investigation suggested Webmaster Tools was not reporting links pointing to site homepages. Often, a large majority of links in a site’s backlink profile point to the homepage, so this is a likely explanation of such dramatic drops.

Google wanted to emphasise to webmasters that AWOL links have not actually disappeared, and the bug will not affect site crawling, indexing or visibility in SERPs. This saw SEOs around the globe breathe a sigh of relief.

New Google Disavow Links tool details released

Disavow Link Tool dog (funny)
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There is still much mystery regarding Google’s Disavow Links tool, released back in October 2012 to aid SEO link management in the wake of various algorithm updates. The mechanics of the tool have been speculated at length by SEOs around the web, and a recent post – on German blog – has highlighted some interesting information.

The post discusses which backlinks SEOs should target with the tool, and what might happen to the authority of sites flagged as hosting a poor quality link. Uli Lutz, a Google Search Quality Engineer, shared the following insights with the blog’s author Ralf Schwoebel:

“I would concentrate on the links reported in the Webmaster Tools on Google.”

“Do not worry about damaging other people, that does not happen.”

“Be aware of the sitewide disavow possibility, it will make your life easier.”

While most SEO engineers will already be aware of the sitewide disavow feature, Lutz’s comments confirms sites flagged by the tool should not have their current power affected. He also confirms Webmaster Tools is the best indexing tool to use when evaluating the backlink profile of a site (though for obvious reasons, he may be a little biased!)

Higher visibility for content linked with verified accounts confirmed

Executive chairman of Google Eric Schmidt is set to release a book in April, and some leaked snippets published online have caught the attention of many SEOs. The most notable assertion regarded the effect verified author accounts will have on the visibility of content within search results:

“Within search results, information tied to verified online profiles will be ranked higher than content without such verification.”

Authorship markup was released in 2011, and Schmidt’s quote explicitly confirms this will be a ranking factor imminently. Some digital authors may wish to remain anonymous but as Schmidt added: “The true cost of remaining anonymous […] might be irrelevance.”

This news should see the number of Google profiles created increase, and could negatively impact link building/brand awareness campaigns such as guest posting, unless such content is tied to a verified profile.

Google launches enhanced Adwords campaigns

Google have released a new upgrade to PPC advertising tool AdWords, named enhanced campaigns. This feature allows AdWords users to target individuals within specific parameters, and has been pitched as an ideal advertising solution across multiple smart devices.

There are two notable benefits of enhanced campaigns:

1. Ads will change in accordance with user context: The advertisements displayed can be programed to change in line with the device through which a user is browsing. For example, users shoe shopping through a PC may see ads linking to footwear websites, while smartphone users could see ads featuring directions or a telephone number for the nearest shoe store instead.

Ads can also be affected by other variables, such as the time of day and GPRS location.

2. The introduction of advanced reporting: Quantifying the effectiveness of enhanced Adwords campaigns will be crucial for those investing significant funds. The introduction of advanced reports allows users to view how many people clicked on an ad, and completed another desired action (if relevant).

This development is great news for those employing PPC ads within their SEO practises, since these changes – enabling improved ad targeting – should ensure a greater ROI.

Matt Cutts defends Google Toolbar PageRank inclusion

Google PageRank
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In yet another video Q&A with head of webspam at Google, Matt Cutts, uploaded to YouTube on February 6, he was asked:

“Why don’t you switch off the PageRank Toolbar feature? It is widely used by link sellers as a link grading system. Why do you continue to display PageRank publicly? It appears to have little relevance, except to spammers.”

Cutts asserted many individuals continue to use PageRank as a sign of how reputable a website is. Although the large majority of SEOs no longer consider the PageRank metric, many other “regular” web users and bloggers apparently do. Cutts cited the “tunnel vision” of SEOs as responsible for the – apparently incorrect – notion that “no one uses the PageRank toolbar”.

Cutts also mentioned since the Chrome browser does not have PageRank built into it, and Internet Explorer does not allow plug-ins, PageRank may eventually slip away unnoticed. Those continuing to rely on this metric will be forced to consider the value of websites in an alternative way, should this occur.

Check back to the Fresh Egg blog next week for the latest Search News Round Up.