Latest Google algorithm penalizes web spam

Google has released a new update to their ranking algorithm this week, aimed at isolating and penalizing websites that use particular spam techniques. From the official blog post :

“In the next few days, we’re launching an important algorithm change targeted at webspam. The change will decrease rankings for sites that we believe are violating Google’s existing quality guidelines.”

So what constitutes a violation of Google guidelines? While deliberately avoiding being specific, Google has highlighted these tactics as problematic and likely to be targeted:

  • Duplicate Content
  • Keyword Stuffing
  • Link Schemes
  • Cloaking
  • Deliberate Redirects
  • Doorway / Gateway Pages
  • Unlike Panda, this algorithmic update has no cutesy name, simply the *webspam algorithm update* according to Search Engine Land.

    As much as this update is a slap on the wrist for aggressive search engine optimizers, Google were very careful to endorse the methodology of so-called *white hat* search engine optimizers in their announcement and isolate those “acceptable” tactics from the tactics they will be punishing with this update:

    “We want people doing white hat search engine optimization (or even no search engine optimization at all) to be free to focus on creating amazing, compelling web sites.”

    It’s interesting to see them so eager to support the SEO industry but probably a sign that they’re expecting webmasters to be confused by the changes and the possibility that they might accidently over-optimize their sites.

    The algorithm change has already started to roll out and Google claims it will affect approximately 3 percent of search queries.

    UPDATE 27 April 2012: You know how I said above that the new algorithm revision doesn’t have a cutesy name? Scrap that. Google has now decided to call it *Penguin*

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    Yes Virginia, Bing DOES use the Meta Keywords Tag

    Not sure how this escaped my attention until now, but late last year, Bing apparently publicly acknowledged that they still support the META Keywords tag.Bing and meta keywords tag

    Here we all were thinking that the tag had quietly died in it’s sleep after a prolonged illness. After all, the last remaining engines it was hooked up to had gradually switched off support, Danny Sullivan had publicly declared the tag dead and spammy meta tag content had become the subject of myth and legend, mentioned only in humorous anecdotes shared over drinks at search industry conferences.

    But despite what we all thought, Bing has indeed been indexing the content of the META Keywords tag, but as a signal for detecting low quality sites, rather than influencing page rank. What has caused all the renewed interest and kerfuffle? Duane Forrester, Senior Product Manager for Bing, kicked off the confusion when he said this about the tag on Webmaster World last year:

    Meta keywords is a signal. One of roughly a thousand we analyze… Abusing meta keywords can hurt you.

    Then followed a cloud of webmaster confusion and forum banter about whether SEO’s should resurrect the tag on their client sites or not.

    As far as I know, Bing is the only remaining major search engine putting their hand up to claim they index the META Keywords tag. According to Forrester’s recent discussions with Danny Sullivan, they use it as one of their page quality signals, so it doesn’t contribute to page ranking as such.

    So here’s the deal: the content of the tag may help Bing understand the context of your page, but it won’t impact where your page ranks on Bing. In fact, if it is stuffed with too many keywords or repetitions, the tag may send a *low quality* signal to Bing about your site, so it is best created very carefully or not used at all.

    For educational purposes, we are still asking Search Engine College students to create a META Keywords tag as part of their assessment items. However, this is to ensure that students know how to craft the tag correctly, in case they decide to use it or are required to craft one in the future for employers or client sites.

    If you are still using the META Keywords tag and it looks like an endless keyword repository, I’d suggest changing the content to focus on keyword variations that are still related to your page content, but that you’re unlikely to use in the visible content on the page. Things like synonyms, plurals, jargon, regional variations, related terms and word stemming.

    If you don’t currently use a Meta Keywords tag, don’t automatically assume you need to create one just for Bing. If you get it wrong, it will likely do your site more harm than good.


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    BREAKING: Google Rolling Out New SERP Design

    So apparently Google have rolled out a new home page to some regional datacenters today with significant changes to both the search function and Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs).

    Search Engine College tutor Micky Stuivenberg (@contentwriteroz) alerted me to the changes via Twitter – which she had been observing on Google Australia since midday today. Micky says she is seeing the following:

    1) The radio button options that used to appear under the search box at to Search: *the web* or *pages from Australia* have disappeared.

    2) A searcher’s default location now appears under the search box on the SERPs (Micky’s says Sydney although she is located on the NSW mid North coast). See this demonstrated in image 2 below.

    3) On SERPs, the main search options that used to appear at the top of the page and are now also listed in a left hand navigation column:

    • Everything (default)
    • News
    • Images
    • Videos
    • Maps
    • Blogs
    • Shopping
    • Books
    • More

    These options appear to be dynamic, based on your user search preferences. You can filter the navigation to only display *blogs* for example.

    3) Underneath that it has the option to search only pages from your region (a long way from the search box!)

    4) Then there are 3 options to search results for

    • Any time (default)
    • Latest
    • past 2 days

    5) Then the standard view (default) with Wonder wheel.

    6) At the bottom of the redesigned SERPs is a button for *More search tools*.

    Here’s a couple of screen grabs of the changes:

    A major difference is that all the above options are now displayed permanently on the SERPs, whereas before you had to click *show options* to see all of them. The changes can only be viewed on selected data-centers right now – I’m not seeing them yet so am grateful to Micky for the scoop!

    I haven’t seen any posts about it on official Google blogs, although it may be related to the local search changes they announced recently.

    I’ve only seen one other blog discussing the revisions so far, so I think it’s fair to call BREAKING on this one.

    * images courtesy of @contentwriteroz and Softpedia

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    Study Proves Power of Top 5 Google Positions

    Ok, so I know this study is a few years old now, but for some reason, I’m seeing it for the first time this week and the graphic is a powerful one that I wanted to share.

    A few years back, Cornell University ran an eye tracking study using undergraduate students to determine how people interact with Google SERPs. They instructed the students to perform searches in Google for 400 different queries, covering a diverse range of topics including movies, travel, music, politics, local and trivia.

    Here’s the meat:

    The study concluded that eye fixation on the first two listings took up half of the user’s attention span. After the second listing, the eye fixation dropped sharply. Search results 6 to 10 received roughly equal attention.

    In terms of click through, nearly 80% of web searchers clicked on the top 3 search results, with  the top 5 spots receiving 88% of traffic. Most fascinating was that the difference in the number of clicks between position #1 and position #2 was over four times!

    While the advent of Google personalized search, real time search and social search since the study has likely impacted these results somewhat, it still proves the power of holding a Top 5 position on Google, particularly a #1 if you can swing it.

    Having recently attained a #1 position for a highly competitive search term where I’ve sat at position #2 for many months, I can personally vouch for the turbo boost impact of the top slot.

    What about you? Have you noticed any trends that would verify the results of this study even today? Please share your observations in the comments.

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    Q and A: Is it possible to guarantee a 1st page listing in Google?

    QuestionDear Kalena…

    I see some of the SEO Consultants guarantee for 1st page listing in Google is this possible to guarantee for 1st page listing?


    This is one of the most common questions that we, as SEO’s have to deal with and the short answer is “No”. No company (other than the search engines themselves) can, with 100% certainty, ensure you a 1st page listing in the organic search results. The paid / sponsored listings are a little different and it is quite possible to guarantee those results, but not for the organic stuff.

    [shameless plug] A couple of years ago I discussed this on my own blog with the post What rank checking and nose picking have in common, but even Google advises against using SEO’s who guarantee results. They state:

    No one can guarantee a #1 ranking on Google.

    Beware of SEOs that claim to guarantee rankings, allege a “special relationship” with Google, or advertise a “priority submit” to Google. There is no priority submit for Google. In fact, the only way to submit a site to Google directly is through our Add URL page or by submitting a Sitemap and you can do this yourself at no cost whatsoever.

    While we, as SEO’s are often quite confident in our skills which have been acquired through years of testing, reading, experimentation and interacting with other SEO’s – the fact of the matter is, we have no control over what (and when) search algorithm changes are going to happen. Further to that, the results that one persons sees may differ considerably due to geographic locations, personalised search data / history, universal search, local business search listings and the list goes on and on.

    If you’d like to read more information on this topic, Rand at SEOmoz has put together a great post about Why Reputable SEO Firms Don’t Promise Guaranteed Search Engine Rankings.

    Hope this helps

    Peter Newsome
    SiteMost – Brisbane SEO

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