Google’s *Brand* New Ranking Algorithm

There’s been a flurry of discussion on Twitter and various SEO blogs over the past 48 hours regarding what appears to be a new ranking algorithm for popular search queries on Google.

I could go spend an hour or two to go into great detail here, but Aaron Wall stayed up all night to write this incredibly insightful post about the issue so I recommend you read his take on it.

In a nutshell, it looks as though Google is now giving ranking preference to the sites of large or well known brands in the search results for certain queries, even when those sites aren’t particularly well optimized for search engine compatibility and were not ranking well with the previous algorithm. There’s been no official word from Google on the matter one way or the other, but plenty of people are voicing their concerns about the change so it probably won’t be long.

I have to admit that if this truly is what it appears to be, it scares me. Part of the appeal for me of optimizing web sites was the fact that Google SERPS were a relatively level playing field. Even with Universal Search thrown into the mix, you could still optimize the site of Joe’s coffee house in Halitosis, Missouri and have it outranking Starbucks and Gloria Jeans for target keywords if you knew what you were doing.

Perhaps this algorithm change (if that’s what it is) is an attempt to clear up the spammy scum out of the Top 20 SERPS, but it may also handicap the authentic underdogs from being able to compete with the big brands.

What do you think? If Google really is giving more weight to brands, is that a positive or negative? Please comment below.

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It’s Green Bar Fever Time!

Yep, we’re about to hit Green Bar Fever this week!

Google is about to update their Toolbar PageRank values and you know what that means. Obsessive webmasters and SEOs panicking about the little green bar. Get ready for the fallout. :-)

Seen any changes to your own site’s PageRank yet? Good, bad or ugly? Why not comment and let me know.

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Q and A: Why do my search positions fluctuate so much in Google?

QuestionDear Kalena

I am hoping that you can help me as this has been driving me crazy! Certain search keywords such as “buy Taser” from the Index (home page) goes to page 1 in google for ONE day, then jumps to page 13 and climbs up to page 20 or so, then goes back to page 1 for one day. So, about once every two weeks those two keywords are on page one in Google for one day!

I do not have this problem with MSN. I am totally baffled. I was running Google Base thinking maybe there was a connection, but I inactivated the product search a few days ago, so I guess that is not the problem. The site is about 9 months old. Is it because I have a yearly expiration domain and Google thinks it will expire soon? I tried so many things. Please help ASAP. Thank you SO much!

Terri

Hi Terri

Ack, I seem to be a magnet for Yahoo SiteBuilder issues this week. First up, please read my recent rant about Yahoo SiteBuilder.

Secondly, to answer your question about shifting rankings, in a nutshell it’s because Google uses different datacenters to show results and shuffles between these datacenters (they each have slightly different ranking algorithms). So on one datacenter your site might be on page 1 for a search query but then for that same query done a day (or hour) later you might be on page 4, because they are showing results from a different storage facility.

Different pages from your site and your competitor’s sites might also be stored on different datacenters, meaning that pages that normally rank well may not appear at all depending on which datacenter Google is using to fetch search results and whether or not all your indexed pages are listed in that datacenter. Your competitors may have more pages indexed by Google across all datacenters so they seem to be consistently outranking you. Or else they have simply done a better job of optimizing their pages to match search queries.

But the datacenter issue is the least of your worries. Here are just some of the problems I see with your site:

  • The Title and META tags are poorly constructed and not optimized for performance on search engines. This can partly be blamed on the tag limitations of Yahoo SiteBuilder, but mostly it is just poor keyword choices and incorrect formatting. For example, your META Description tag contains a bunch of keywords instead of a readable sentence! Your poor Title and META tags are limiting the ability of each of your site pages being found in search engines.
  • You’ve got the worse case of code bloat that I’ve seen in years, thanks to excessive code added to your HTML pages by the SiteBuilder program and the page author. Code bloat happens when unnecessary code snippets are added to your HTML code during the editing of your pages. A very common way this happens is if you cut and paste text from one program into your web editing software. For example, if you cut and paste from MS Word into your web editor, you can often find extraneous code (such as span tags) added. These snippets build up and add to your file size and can often lead to invalid code, meaning that Googlebot and other search robots may have problems indexing your pages and abandon the site, meaning fewer pages are indexed and included in their datacenters. Apart from that, code bloat impacts the ranking relevancy of your site because it impacts the keyword density of your pages. For example, if your competitor mentions “buy taser” in their page text the same number of times as you do in your page, but their page has less code to wade through, it is likely that their page will rank higher than yours for the search query “buy taser”.
  • As I suspected, your code does not validate. When I ran it through the W3C Markup Validator, it spat back 236 errors, including a missing DocType! Now Google and other engines are pretty forgiving these days when it comes to invalid code, but even if some pages are being successfully indexed, the errors could well be sabotaging your site’s ability to rank well.
  • I’m betting that Google hasn’t indexed many of your site pages. Read this post about how to get more pages indexed and how to monitor your site’s performance in Google.
  • You’ve got keyword repetition ad infinitum happening on your home page. The excessive keyword reps are almost certainly going to trigger search engine spam filters if they haven’t already. I think you’re breaking practically all Google’s Webmaster Guidelines!
  • There don’t seem to be many internal or external links pointing to your site. You should try to gain some links from other web sites in your industry as theme-based links will help boost your position in Google.

There’s lots more wrong with your site, but I think I’ve given you plenty to get on with for your $10 coffee donation. The rest is up to you. As I always say to businesses using free or cheap web design and hosting tools online, you get what you pay for. If you want potential customers to take your business seriously, YOU need to take it seriously and spend some time and money addressing your site’s compatibility with search engines.

You should consider paying a site designer to build you a better looking site that can be properly optimized. If you can’t afford a professional site design, consider installing the (free) WordPress blogging platform on your server and taking full control over your site that way. Teach yourself – it’s free – and then hire a search engine optimizer to get your site ranking better. If you can’t afford a search engine optimizer, consider posting your requirements on our Search Engine College jobs board as there are a lot of SEO students just itching to sharpen their skills on a real site.

I’d also recommend downloading the free Search Engine Optimization lesson from Search Engine College so you can better understand what makes a site rank well in search engines and take control of your own site’s destiny. Good luck!

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Q and A: Will submitting my site to directories improve my PageRank?

QuestionHi Kalena…

I’ve a question: There are thousands of Internet Directories on the web, is still a good idea submit a link to my page in those directories to improve my Page Rank?

Thanks
Roberto

Dear Roberto

The whole idea behind Google PageRank is to rank sites based on a kind of voting system, with each link pointing to your site acting like a vote. However, some links pointing to your site can have a negative effect, particularly links from sites that are considered low quality, contain mainly duplicate content or don’t have a very high PageRank themselves.

So by all means, submit your site to directories and search engines, but just be picky about the sites you choose to link to you. Don’t try and obtain links from dodgy looking sites or from directories that list dodgy looking sites. Quality is more important to Google over quantity so if you’ve got 10 links from trusted sites they are more likely to help your site’s PageRank score than 100 links from lower quality sites. See my past post about linking to bad neighbourhoods for further clarification.

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