Posts Tagged ‘google


The Trouble with Backlinks

Google started it. Yeah, blame them. Blame them hard and often. Back in 1996, two Stanford PhD students came up with a “better” way to categorize and rank websites in order to create an index that would help people find treasure amid that horrifying mess of 488,000 registered domains. Can you even imagine? Almost half a million websites?

Growth of Internet Domains from 1996 to 2011

We used to think 500,000 was a big number.

At the time, the search engine landscape was pretty impressive, with such luminaries as Alta Vista, Infoseek, Lycos, and others whose fame and glory lives on to this day…. no wait. Check that. They are all completely forgotten. This is because every one of them relied completely on things like keyword density and the keyword metatag to rank sites for their search results. Which, it turns out, was really really really easy to game. So you’d see sites selling tennis shoes with the words “free sex mp3” appearing like 4 thousand times at the bottom of the page. Fun days for us SEO youngsters!

Until those Stanford brainiacs came up with a little thing they called “Backrub.” Which was an algorithmic way to categorize sites based—not on their content—but on their popularity. Well, the boys took out a few patents, tweaked the thing by adding a couple of hundred other mysterious ranking factors, named it Google, grew to gigantic size practically overnight, went APO, and became the richest geeks in the universe.

Which is getting ahead of our story, just a bit. Because at first, this new approach truly ruled the net. Google grew to enormous size because their search results were amazing. Compared to all the once-was engines, it was revolutionary. If you entered something into the little white box, you actually stood a decent chance of finding a relevant page or two. Remarkable!

Pages stuffed with irrelevant keywords suddenly dropped way, way down the ranks in favor of sites that lots of people had made lots of links to, just because they were awesome.

Time passed, and Google evolved. They tweaked and fine-tuned. They worked tirelessly to make their little engine the best little engine. And all the while, we SEO-types schemed and plotted to mess it all up. What we wanted to do (and still want to do, of course) was trick the Mighty Google into thinking our sites were better than our competitors’ sites, whether they were actually relevant to the search or not. We did this in many ways. We’d come up with something that really seriously gamed the algo and won top ranks, then Google would counter with more tweaks. So we’d think of something else.

This escalation cycle has gone on continuously since the first Google release. Google wants to make all the content on the internet easy to locate through a simple keyword search. We want to sidetrack, obfuscate, control, and manipulate those searches to point you to sites that have paid us to do so.

Sniff. Sometimes we’re a little ashamed. Most of the time we’re figuring out new ways to short-circuit Google’s algorithm.

Which brings us to backlinks. And the Trouble with them.

As of the latest survey of SEO pros from the good folk at SEOMoz (which we highlighted as a Site of the Week a few weeks ago), the consensus is that links still account for something 40% of the Google algorithm. So they still carry a boatload of weight.

Even though we SEOs have been busy jamming up the works with fake links, crappy links, irrelevant links, imaginary links, 8-way reciprocal links, purchased links, blog comment spam links, and any other kind of oh-so-clever link garbage we can imagine, backlinks still work.

Which is a pity, really. Because goddamnit, we might be SEOs, but we want to be able to find stuff on the internet! And just like you and everyone else, we frequently can’t. Find. A. Damn. Thing. In fact, we just spent something like 2 hours trying to find the data for the graph we posted above. Pssffffffft.

I guess you makes your bed, you gets to lie in it.



Let’s talk about Bing, shall we?

First, we have to say (in point of full-disclosure) that we are not big fans of Bing. When Microsoft released it in 2009, we scoffed. Bing? Really? Why not make your intentions even clearer and call it Biggle? (Actually, at the time we thought they might have had better long-term success with “Bong,” but that is another kettle of worms entirely.)

The launch of Bing was surrounded by one of the larger hooplas ever seen. We’d guess that MS spent way more money promoting their  new search engine than they spent building it. The artificial buzz they created just reeked of MBA-juice: hyperbolic articles in every major technology publication, press release after press release, gushing “reviews” that were clearly penned in the MS Marketing Dept, and on and on ad infinitum ad naseum, ad vomitus.

Surely, we thought, not even the Public could be stupid enough to fall for this oh-so inferior search engine simply because of the overwhelming promotional effort. Surely throwing a mega-dollar campaign machine at a revamped Yahoo engine would not be enough to make it “cool.” Of course, the success trajectory of Lady GaGa did nothing to encourage us as far as the Public discernment is concerned.

So they released Bing. And hyped it. And hyped it some more. You could read internet commentary from pithy blog to respected dead-tree pub and Bing was the only search engine you heard peep one about. But something strange happened.

We were right to hope. And Bill Gates was wrong to assume that the masses were that incredibly gullible.

Despite all you hear about the inroads Bing is making, about the huge successes it continues to rack up,  about all the wonderful ways it has made life safe and happy for us all, the damn thing still sucks and it’s still pretty much irrelevant.

Search engine statistics don't lie!

Okay, so Bing’s market share is still pretty low compared to Google. Surely all the Microsoft Money has increased its presence at the expense of all the little engines that couldn’t! Read all the breathless “news” articles proclaiming Bing’s incipient victory (quoted straight from the press release) and you can’t help but believe! Bing will win! Yay!

Not so fast.

Hmmm. Even without the Goog, Bing's a little limp.

Remove the Google numbers and you’ll note that Bing’s market share can’t even compete with Baidu, let alone Yahoo. If anything, they’ve even lost a little ground in past couple of months.

So let ‘er rip, Microsoft, let the rain of overt promotional media continue to fall. Spend every last dime of Uncle Bill’s hoard trying to break into the search engine club.

Personally. we think all that money would have been much better spent trying to write a better search algorithm. But, hey. Maybe that’s just crazy talk.

If you can’t buy success, what the hell’s money for?

All data from NetMarketShare.


Another SEO Quiz

Now what was I looking for?

Google has been pretty good about publishing clear guidelines for webmasters seeking to improve their search ranks. But the question is, do these published guidelines accurately reflect the reality behind the Google algorithm? Just for fun, we put together this quiz comparing the Google guidelines and the opinions of SEO professionals as reported in the superb SEOMoz 2011 survey.

Ready? Go.

What does Google officially proclaim to be the #1 most important search ranking factor?

  1. Backlinks
  2. PageRank score
  3. Quality content
  4. Domain age

What do the 132 SEO professionals polled by SEOMoz think is the #1 most important search ranking factor?

  1. Backlinks
  2. PageRank score
  3. Quality content
  4. Domain age

Which of the following “negative” ranking factors does Google list first?

  1. duplicate content
  2. Hidden text or links
  3. malicious behaviors such as phishing or malware
  4. cloaking or sneaky redirects

Which of the following “negative” ranking factors did the SEOMoz professionals list first?

  1. duplicate content
  2. Hidden text or links
  3. malicious behaviors such as phishing or malware
  4. cloaking or sneaky redirects

Which of the following “negative” ranking factors does Google list second?

  1. duplicate content
  2. Hidden text or links
  3. malicious behaviors such as phishing or malware
  4. cloaking or sneaky redirects

Which of the following “negative” ranking factors did the SEOMoz professionals list second?

  1. duplicate content
  2. Hidden text or links
  3. malicious behaviors such as phishing or malware
  4. cloaking or sneaky redirects


  1. The Google’s PageRank score that they let you see is the same as the one they use to rank your pages.  (true/false)
  2. The name “PageRank” does not refer to your page’s rank, but to Larry Page, the guy who invented it. (true/false)
  3. Google’s official motto is “Don’t be evil.” (true/false)
  4. Google just wants us all to be happy. (true/false)

3, 1, 2, 3, 4, 4
T/F:  false, true, true, insufficient data at this time

10 correct: you are an SEO Star and SEOMoz should add you to their survey pool
7-9 correct: you’re doing all right, but could learn a bit more
4-6 correct: maybe you should consider hiring somebody to do your SEO
1-3 correct: give up on SEO and open an AdWords account


Google’s Advanced Search Operators for SEO

Now what was I looking for?

We’ve been doing this stuff for so long now that sometimes we forget that not everybody knows all the tricks we normally take for granted. Google Advanced Search Operators, for instance.

In fact, we’re sometimes surprised to learn that there are even some SEO professionals who don’t use these little search operator tricks—even though we find ourselves using many of them pretty much daily.

So we put together a list of our favorites, in no particular order.

Also note that the usual useful search operators and filters work in cooperation with some of these: “quotes” around a string mean exact match, + (plus sign) means must include, – (minus sign) means exclude.

Useful Google Search Operators

site: All indexed pages under the search string domain


link: List of significant indexed links pointing to the search string domain


allintitle: All words in title
Search for documents with all the words in the search string  in their title. Can’t be combined with other operators

example: allintitle: quest solution

intitle: Word in title
Search for documents with the first word after the intitle operator somewhere in their title.

allintext: All words in text
Search for documents with all search string words the in their text. Can’t be combined with other operators

example: allintext:firefly tv character jayne

intext: Word in Text
Search for documents with the first word after the intext operator in their text.

allinurl: All words in URL
Search for documents with all the words in their url. Returns results with all words in any part of URL, in any order. Can’t be combined with other operators

example: allinurl:eugene west storage

inurl: Word in URL
Search for documents with the first word after the inurl operator in their url.

allinanchor: All words in anchor
Search for documents with all the words in an anchor. Returns pages with all of the words in the search string used in at least one hyperlink. Can’t be combined with other operators

example: allinanchor:most experienced seo

inanchor: Word in anchor
Search for documents with the first word after the operator in an anchor.



Dear Google,

You’ve been, for many years, the search engine of my dreams. I’ve loved you, worked with you, used you and let you use me. We’ve shared many things. We’ve gone many places. We have lived and learned and grown together during our time together, and I have never really strayed. Oh, sure, I’ve occasionally glanced at another engine. Even flirted a little from time to time. But I have never, ever considered leaving you for another.

I mean, really. None of the other engines compare to you. Yahoo? A pale shadow. Bing? A pretentious imitation. Wolfram-Alpha? Egotistical, single-minded, and smarter than I need it to be.

Google, you are my search engine.

And through all this, I have never asked anything of you except honest answers to my questions. If I wanted to know about Genghis Khan, you knew where to look. If I wanted to find a new tattoo design, you pointed me in the right direction. If I wanted to buy shoes, you were there for me. You even began to show me where I could find things in my own town. Pizza? It’s right over there! Movie times? Gotcha covered!

Which is all good. Every innovation has tried to make the information I receive just what I was looking for. All good.

Except that now Google, you have finally gone just a little too far. Lately, when I have searched for information on anything—seriously, just about anything—you treat it as if I existed on an island, with no cares for anything but my immediate surroundings. You have localized virtually every search I make. If I want to find the best internet deal on blue jeans, you send me to my local Sears. If I want to learn who my biggest SEO competitors are, you only show me those within a 10 mile radius.

If I type something with an unconventional spelling, you think you know what I meant—and deliver what you think I wanted, not what I searched for. Spell check is all well and good, but maybe I wanted to search for “flikr” not “flicker.” Possible, maybe?

If I search for Cowboy Boots on Wednesday, but on Thursday I want to find the Cowboy Junkies, DON’T SHOW ME BOOTS!

You believe you can read my mind. That you can tell just what I was thinking when I typed that search query.


Not kidding. This could seriously ruin our relationship. End it forever, even. If I want to see local search results I’ll tell you that’s what I want. Stop reading my IP and deciding for me what you think I should see. If I want to search for something that’s spelled weird, LET ME.  And don’t think you know what I want today just because you saw what I wanted yesterday. JUST STOP IT.

At the very least, give me an option! Let me choose a version of your engine that just gives me the best answer, not necessarily the one you decide is the best answer for me.

No, really.

Formerly yours, and still yours but beginning to have second thoughts,



Google Algorithm Panda Update [like/unlike]

So it’s official! The Google update known as Panda, aka the “High Quality Sites Update,” has adopted user feedback as one of its ranking elements. User feedback is nothing new to Google, of course. For years, they’ve routinely used click-through rates and bounce rates to score AdWord campaigns, and they’ve also been thought to include a page’s overall traffic history when deciding where it should rank for a given keyword. The difference is, now the Almighty Goog has introduced two new features that operate through proprietary interfaces to collect specific data on how users feel about websites. Information they will then use in the calculation of search results rank.

Users of Google Chrome have at their disposal a new feature, domain block and those folks who have signed up for a Google profile can lay down a +1.

Essentially, domain block lets users unhappy that a particular domain shows up for specific searches can apply a filter that removes the offending domain from all future similar searches. (Just for searches done on that same installation of Chrome, of course. Wouldn’t it be cool if you could block every instance of a domain from showing up for anybody? Which just a click? Awesome!)

Google Profile’s new +1, on the other hand, is sort of a clone of Facebook’s “like” button. If you are signed into your Profile account—and it’s set to “public”—you have the option of tagging a search result as one you are particularly fond of. All of your +1s are stored in a separate tab in your account, where you can share or hoard them to your heart’s content.  Which is all seems like a weird attempt to turn search into social. You’ll get little messages in your Gmail saying “Your GPal Betty +1’d the Hamburglar Fan Page! Do you +1 too?” and you will then feel compelled to dash over there and register your opinion which will then be broadcast to all your friends who will feel compelled….

Ah, but  of course there is another shoe. What is Google really after? One very likely point to this exercise involves the collection of data. Every domain block casts a black mark, every +1 gives you a gold star. Which, when added into the algo, provides a clear, voluntary user-provided vote on the quality of a site. (Which will go into the algo mix along with the other 200 or so elements, but I’m sure it will improve search results in some mysterious fashion.)

I like Google. I’ve been +1ing them since the day they sifted their first result. But this Panda/social/user-contributed stuff really falls flat. First, you’d think they were the first to try it, based on all the hoopla. You’d be wrong. A company named Alexa has been providing search results and data sets based on user feedback for many years.

Second, Google’s strategy severely limits participation. Problem with Alexa is, nobody gives a damn. Alexa results come from a toolbar that some folks get installed into their browser. It’s really a kind of sucky toolbar, and a fair percentage of the people who have it got it installed deceptively by some other program they downloaded and just aren’t clever enough to remove it. This limits their data to people who really aren’t very aware of their surroundings. Google limits participation to 1. people who use Chrome, and 2. people who use Profiles. As of now, that’s a pretty small slice of internet demographics.

The new Google domain block schema improves the Alexa model in that half of the Google user votes come from people who’ve installed the Chrome browser—and use it. Which, because Chrome is actually a pretty sweet browser, makes the user base a lot stronger and thus their opinions  more valuable. The vote cast is also completely voluntary. The +1 feature, however, has much less going for it. Because Facebook already rules that space, and because nobody wants to have their “favorites,” “likes,” “iHearts,” and “+1s” scattered all over the freakin’ web.

And last but definitely not least, this model is just as open to manipulation as all the others. As your SEO, I will now include a guaranteed 250 +1s with every contract. And if you sign today, I’ll throw in 200 competitor domain blocks, absolutely free!

Google Chrome

Google Profiles



Before You SEO, Know

Okay, I know you’ve heard about all the things you need to do to optimize your site for search. You’ve probably read list after list after list (including, perhaps, a couple of mine) about what to do when and in what order.  Keywords, meta tags, headlines, titles, content, links, blah, blah, blah.

All of those things are important.

But there is one thing that’s more important than any of them. And it’s not on many lists of SEO techniques. That’s because it has to happen before you SEO.

Call it “intelligence gathering capability.” If you are serious about getting all that juicy free search engine traffic, you have got to have your eyes open. You have got to be listening to the wind, ear to the ground, alert to every sign of danger, hope, or chance.

What if you spend a hundred hours doing SEO stuff, and suddenly see your orders double. Cool, huh. But it would be even cooler, don’t you think, if you knew just what had happened to improve your fortunes—so that you could do it again, do it some more, and make it happen on demand.

Yes, it would be lots cooler.

The way that happens is by applied tracking and analytics. Which is the Very First Thing You Have to Do Before You Start Optimizing. There are a large number of web analytic tracking solutions, ranging from the way-to0-simple visit counters to the way-too-complex enterprise data collection and reporting suites. Although many eCommerce Giants are willing to spend a thousand dollars a month for data mining software that requires a staff of statistical engineers to manage and interpret, you don’t have to.

All you need to know in order to understand your web traffic, your customer demographics, your conversion patterns, and your keyword performance can be had for free. Yup, free like in “free beer.”

There are several free data collection and interpretation packages to choose from, but none are better than the one used by webmeisters everywhere, the first of its kind, the king of traffic analysis, the Goog.

Google Analytics. Since its limited release in 2006, GA has been adopted by roughly half of the top million websites. It works for sites large and small. It works without complex setup or steep learning curve. It provides all sorts of interesting data in simple tables, graphs, and charts. You can easily discover how many  visits came to each page, how many of them were repeat visitors, where they live (country, region, city), what browser they use, what search engine they used to find you, and even the keyword they typed into it. And way, way more.

I’m not saying that Google Analytics is the only way to observe, track, and understand your website’s visit profile. It may or may not be the best for you. But it’s free, easy to use, and pretty damn functional. I’ve used it from the beginning on dozens of websites of my own and recommended it to hundreds of clients. None have every asked me to turn it off.

All you need to do to get started with Google Analytics is open an account, then let GA generate your unique user-id and tracking code, then attach the code to into the <head> of any and pages you’d like to collect information on. The minute you publish those pages, they start sending data. Log into your account after a day or so, and you’ll see all the statistics your little heart could possibly desire.

Believe me, once you get started down the path of search marketing, Google Analytics will become your very best friend.

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