Archive for March, 2011

Nonplussed with Google +1

The first time I read the Google announcement about +1 I thought “what an awesome April Fool’s joke.”

Sure, Google was a little early this year with their April Fool’s joke. But it’s a big one so let’s everyone do please play along. And it’s not unlike industry insiders to help Google pile on one big industry “ha-ha.”

And then I started clicking on stuff and thought “Oh crap, this is for real.” Sure enough … before I knew it I had completed my first +1 for BBC World News and there it was, gleaming on the newly redesigned tab of my public Google profile for all to see. (Oh. Sorry about that. You can’t see my +1 without being in my Google social network. Oh, wait. Google doesn’t have a social network … at least not yet.)

Q. So is Google’s +1 feature likely to be a SEO industry game changer?

A. IMO. No. Google +1 is going to suffer the fate of Google Wave and has the potential to receive Google Buzz class-actionable privacy attention when it expands beyond US results.

Q. Why?

A. Because search is not a social activity. Search is a tool. Search is more utilitarian than a social event, and Google +1 is acting more like a social bookmarking tool than anything else right now. There is a difference between creating a social bookmark in a “seal of approval” or “thumbs-up” manner.  A social bookmark denotes “oh yes, I’d like to come back to this time and time again. And I’d like for my friends to be able to come back to my collection of awesome bookmarks, too.” A social bookmark action says “this is cool, but I’m moving on,” not “I endorse this content and you should, too.”

Frankly, I doubt if my Google contacts care about what I think because like most people it’s a complete hodgepodge of personal and professional contacts. For Google +1 a contact is a friend and I don’t know that that is always the case. Do I want one of my clients to see that I +1d a rival site? I don’t think so. But they could if they are in my contacts. I don’t think I want to have to think that much about what I +1 or what I don’t +1. I do think I might need a new circle of more interesting friends and that I might have to delete my more taciturn contacts. I also think we need a -1 service so I can really share how I feel with my friends and family.

Right now, 1+ is only available on the first result in Google’s US web search. I find it strange that I can only add the first result but not -1 other results as I see fit. Perhaps I have to wait for someone in my circle of Google friends produce some content that could be considered relevant to my search query? If +1 gains traction, however, marketers will begin working to game the system just like Facebook likes. (And they probably are working to start gaming Google right now.) Google almost appears to be encouraging that kind of behavior. But Google isn’t dumb, so it begs the question, why bother?

IMO:  Google +1s are an organic curiosity that should not have an immediate effect on influencing the relevancy in Google search results. For now, +1s are just the newest signals added to the white noise that is the amalgamation of Google search results.

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Yahoo Search Direct

Yahoo rolled out Yahoo Search Direct yesterday, its rival to Google Instant. Yahoo says that its service is focused on providing actual answers, while Google’s version of instant results is focused on links. Search Direct is live on search.yahoo.com and other U.S. Yahoo search properties, but not yet on the homepage of yahoo.com

How it works: Yahoo Search Direct offers the top 30 results from its index and as the user types, Yahoo refines the results to provide visitors the top 10 most likely to be relevant results in the lower left portion of the user interface and the top 3 results on the right side of the user interface. Yahoo said that right now the links and content being shown in the right part of the user interface are the URLs that are the “most clicked” throughout the Yahoo network. Yahoo calls these its search previews.

  • Please know this is a beta release and predominantly organized around sports, news, TV, movies, local, finance, shopping, travel, weather, and trending search themes.
  • Yahoo contends that for about 50% of the top queries on the web there is a “definite answer” and that Yahoo Search Direct provides these answers.
  • Yahoo notes that  when expressed on tablets or mobile devices Yahoo Search Direct could take very different forms.
  • Yahoo said that Search Direct uses an algorithm distinct from Microsoft’s organic search algorithm.
  • Yahoo notes that rankings can change moment to moment because Search Direct is dynamic.

The new search builds on Yahoo’s attempt to stay relevant in the lucrative search market by focusing on user experience, now that it has farmed out the expensive infrastructure to Microsoft, in exchange for ad-revenue sharing.

In my opinion:

  • Seems like a good way to marginalize advertising revenues while amplifying results for Yahoo channels, like shopping, travel, etc.
  • UI is interesting when considering the future use of tablets and smart phones.
  • Seems like a good way to marginalize advertising revenues while amplifying results for Yahoo channels, like shopping, travel, etc.

Articles & References:

Yahoo!’s New Search Box of Awesome: Search Direct
Yahoo debuts ‘future of search’
Yahoo Reveals Secrets Of “Search Direct” Algorithm
Head-To-Head: Yahoo Search Direct Vs. Google Instant

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SEO Best Practices: Search Engine Friendly URLs

Convention wisdom suggests that you can attract more bees with honey. When it comes to organic search engine optimization, nothing attracts search engine spiders like crawler-friendly URLs.

What qualities do most search engine-friendly URLs possess? Generally speaking, most search engine-friendly URLs:

Describe the content on the page.
An obvious URL is a great URL. If a user can look at the address bar or a pasted link in a Tweet or blog post, and make an accurate guess about the not only the source of the content bat also the context of the content of the page before ever clicking on the link, then the URL is probably search engine friendly. These URLs get cut and pasted, shared, emailed, written down, spoken in hushed tones, and indexed by the search engines.  Successful search engine optimization initiatives almost always start by presenting users with descriptive URLs.

Are short and sweet:
The shorter the URL, the easier to copy and paste into a document, read over the phone, write on a business card, or use in a hundred other online marketing initiatives, all of which contribute to better usability,  higher search engine visibility and consistent branding. Keep URLs short and to the point and you are likely to enjoy a long and happy life on the interwebs.

Appear to be static:
Some of the major search engines treat static URLs differently than dynamic URLs. Humans and bots tend to mistrust URLs when their primary components are “?,” “&,” and “=”. Dynamic URLs can often be the ultimate barrier to successful positioning in the major search engines. Do yourself a favor and make dynamic URLs appear to be static and unchanging by implementing URL rewrites, canonical tag attributes, stemming guides and the like.

Include keywords:
If you know that you’re going to be targeting a lot of competitive keyword phrases on your website for search traffic, you’ll want to leverage every SEO signal you cant. Keywords  in URLs are certainly one element of that strategy. Even dynamically created pages through a rigorous CMS can create the option of including keywords in the URL. Use your keywords wisely in your navigational ontology and you will help improve your website’s overall visibility in the search engines.

Don’t reply on many different subdomains:
It’s a good idea to not use multiple subdomains (e.g., category.www.mysite.com). Doing so adds unnecessary complex layers to what will likely be lengthy URLs. Back in the stone age of SEO (circa 1998) subdomains used to be treated like different sites so the use of multiple subdomains exploded. The result was an explosion in duplicate content and attempts to game the search engines.  Use sudomains sparingly — like when a subdomain has the potential to be treated as a completely separate site from the top level domain. But avoid setting up sub-sub-sub-sudomains at all costs.

Are built from as few folders as possible:
A truly search engine-friendly URL should contain no unnecessary folders or paths (or words or characters for that matter). The equation is simple — the more folders in the URL, the further away from the root domain and the further away from the root domain, the less important the page. Always strive to eliminate superfluous folders and/or paths in URLs and you will eventually find success in the search engines.  Remember, relevant directory names are helpful for both search engines and human users since they provide an idea about the content of the content at the URL.

Use hyphens to separate words:
When creating URLs with multiple words in the format of a phrase, hyphens are (still) best to separate the terms (e.g. /very-friendly/keyword-rich/); followed (in order) by, underscores ( _ ), plus signs (+) and nothing ( spaces ). Users and bots still prefer hyphens, even though most most search engine spiders can now slug their way through exceedingly complex URL constructs.

Are consistent with naming conventions:
If your site uses a single format throughout its architecture, don’t consider making one section unique. Stick to your URL guidelines once established, so users (and developers) will have a clear idea of how content is organized into folders and pages. This can apply globally as well for sites that share platforms, brands, etc.

Are not case sensitive:
Since URLs can accept both uppercase and lowercase characters, don’t ever allow any uppercase letters in your site structure. If you have upper case URL constructs in play now, 301 (permanently redirect them) to all-lowercase versions and/or implement canonical link elements to help avoid search engine spider confusion and potential content duplication. If you have a lot of type-in traffic, you might even consider a 301 rule that sends any incorrect capitalization permutation to its rightful home.

Are not appended with extraneous data:
There’s no point to having a URL exist in which removing characters generates the same content. Site visitors are potential lazy linkers. They are not going to bother to link to you version of an optimal URL. If you use appended URLs and can’t figure out why your link building initiatives don’t produce positive results, go back to the drawing board and stop appending  URLs with extraneous parameters now.

Describe the Content:
An obvious URL is a great URL. If a user can look at the address bar or a pasted link in a Tweet or blog post, and make an accurate guess about the content of the page before ever reaching it, then the URL is likely optimal. These URLs get pasted, shared, emailed, written down, and indexed by the search engines. Online marketing success starts with presenting users with descriptive URLs.

Keep URLs Short:
The shorter the URL, the easier to copy and paste into a document, read over the phone, write on a business card, or use in a hundred other online marketing initiatives, all of which contribute to better usability and consistent branding by keeping URLs short and to the point.

Static URLs are Best:
Some of the major search engines treat static URLs differently than dynamic URLs. Humans and bots dislike a URL when the primary components are “?,” “&,” and “=”. Dynamic URLs can often be the ultimate barrier to successful positioning in the major search engines.

Keywords Never Hurt:
If you know that you’re going to be targeting a lot of competitive keyword phrases on your website for search traffic, you’ll want every advantage you can get. Keywords are certainly one element of that strategy. Even dynamically created pages through a rigorous CMS can create the option of including keywords in the URL.

Subdomains Aren’t the Answer:
Never use multiple subdomains (e.g., category.www.cabelas.com); doing so adds unnecessary complex layers to what will likely be lengthy URLs. Secondly, consider that subdomains have the potential to be treated separately from the primary domain when it comes to passing link and trust value.

In most cases where just a few subdomains are used and there’s good interlinking – subdomain-based site architecture won’t hurt. For example, forums.cabelas.com is completely in line with best practices. Just remember that the limited benefits derived from flooding the SERPs with different subdomains are minimal when compared to the potential loss of link juice and domain trust.

Fewer Folders Are Better:
A URL should contain no unnecessary folders or paths (or words or characters for that matter). The equation is simple — the more folders in the URL, the further away from the root domain and the further away from the root domain, the less important the page. Always strive to eliminate superfluous folders and/or paths in URLs.

Relevant directory names are helpful for both search engines and human users since they provide an idea about the content of the URL. It’s a best practice to use keywords in the URL structure in the form of directory names and subdirectories to optimize your website.

Hyphens Separate Best:
When creating URLs with multiple words in the format of a phrase, hyphens are best to separate the terms (e.g. /sure-safe/field-dressing-glove/); followed (in order) by, underscores ( _ ), plus signs (+) and nothing ( spaces ).

Be Consistent with Naming Conventions:
If your site uses a single format throughout its architecture, don’t consider making one section unique. Stick to your URL guidelines once established, so users (and developers) will have a clear idea of how content is organized into folders and pages. This can apply globally as well for sites that share platforms, brands, etc.

Don’t be Case Sensitive:
Since URLs can accept both uppercase and lowercase characters, don’t ever allow any uppercase letters in your site structure. If you have upper case URL constructs in play now, 301 (permanently redirect them) to all-lowercase versions to help avoid confusion and content duplication. If you have a lot of type-in traffic, you might even consider a 301 rule that sends any incorrect capitalization permutation to its rightful home.

Don’t Append Extraneous Data:
There’s no point to having a URL exist in which removing characters generates the same content. You can be virtually assured that people on the web will figure it out, link to the content in different fashions, confuse themselves, their readers and the search engines (with duplicate content issues), and then wonder why their link building initiatives aren’t working.

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