Archives for posts with tag: search engine optimisation

You may be under the impression that when you search for something on Google the results you see are the same as anyone else that performs that search. This isn’t the case, and hasn’t been for a long time.

In 2009 Google went full steam ahead with personalized search. The idea was to look through your internet history, your Gmail and all the rest of your Google products and look for signals that would enable Google to tailor a search results to exactly what you are looking for.

As well as looking through your history, Google has always wanted to look at your social network to make your search results more relevant. The only problem with that is it doesn’t own any social network data – a social network like Facebook is a ‘walled garden’ that Google can only peek in from the outside.

The arrival of Google+ allows Google free-rein over your social data and will herald the age of a new buzzword – social search. Social search is the process whereby your social network (or social graph) affects the results of a Google search. By looking at the content that has been created or shared by people in my social graph, the results I get from a Google search will be more personalized than ever before.

I’ve already seen this in action. After searching Google for ‘SOPA’ (the Stop Online Piracy Act) I found myself reading from a website that I had never heard of. I traced how I ended up on this particular page and it turns out that someone I have in my Google Circle network was a writer for this website and had +1′ed the article.

This is great, right? Google search results will become more relevant, based upon people like me and less likely to be manipulated by dirty SEO tactics. Some people have even gone so far as to call this a ‘Socratic Revolution’ – suggesting that the era of personalized search is akin to the philosopher Socrates placing man at the center of the intellectual universe.

There is, however, a dark side to personalized search that has been recognized in a book called  ‘The Filter Bubble’ by Eli Pariser. The problem, he argues, is that this personalized ecosystem of knowledge acts as a mirror that reinforces what we believe without allowing the possibility of our views being challenged. Each new layer of personalization strengthens the walls of our own bubble – satisfying us with the information we want to see instead of offering new ideas. Or as he puts it, we are being given ‘too much candy, and not enough carrots.’

Whilst the Filter Bubble emphasizes our uniqueness, it acts as a centrifugal force – it pulls us apart from one another. With enough personalization the front page of Google News will be different for everyone, removing the kind of shared experience we used to have with a newspaper. Also, the Filter Bubble is invisible – we don’t know the maths behind how these algorithms define us. And with the increasing omnipotence of Google – it is difficult to not be a part of it.

So the arrival of Google+ social search marks a new era of ‘invisible autopropaganda’ that will continue ‘indoctrinating us with our own ideas’. What it will also mark is the start of a new form of marketing and campaigning – especially in the run-up to the 2012 US election. If I tap ‘Healthcare’ into Google I will be presented with the healthcare articles that my network has shared. Both the Democrats and the Republicans will have to fight to ensure that they have the right people inside the voters Google Circles.

Whilst we may still be at the dawn of social search – the correct techniques in this area could eventually make or break a campaign. Could 2012 be the year that Obama leverages Google+ to win the election?

Google+ seemed to take up the lions share of my predictions for 2012. It is the most interesting and promising social network out there. Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn all have their place, but Google+ is still surrounded by a suggestive veil of mystery. However – despite all my interest, I don’t actually use the service that much. So with a new year starting I thought I would dive in and see what pearls I can find.

Starting Over

A point raised by Ezra Klein over on Quora is that Google+ allows you a fresh  start. Furnished with all the skills you have picked up from four years of Facebook and two years of Twitter,  Google+ gives you the opportunity to ensure that people are correctly grouped and avoid any miscalculations you may have previously made.

Bookmarking

I used to be a massive fan of social bookmarking and I used to religiously save all the interesting links I found to Delicious. This changed this year for reasons that escape me. I think it was a combination of a forgotten password, a broken plugin or fears that Delicious was to close that stopped me bookmarking everything. However Google+ looks set to bring me back into good bookmarking habits.

The G+ button that you see at the top of webpages and next to search results act as a one click bookmarking function that saves the page you are viewing to your public or private +1 page (here’s mine).

The problems are that you cannot tag links like you could in Delicious and you cannot currently perform searches on your list of +1′s. I imagine this will all be changed soon, and you will be able to search your +1 bookmarks from the Google homepage. After all, Google intends your +1 page to be ‘the place you’ll go to personally manage the ever-expanding record of things you love around the web‘.

Subscribing

Every so often I need to give my Google RSS reader a clean out. I am constantly following new websites and removing others from my feed. On Facebook – I am careful to follow only a few websites and brands in order to ensure my Facebook news feed doesn’t get clogged.

However, when I am subscribing using Google Circles I am instantly encouraged to categorize each subscription. I can have a tech news circle, a recipe circle and film circle. I can have a circle dedicated to particular thinkers and a circle for particular colleagues. And – I can drop people and websites in and out of circles with ease.

You could argue that this is not much different to Twitter lists. Yet things seem easier and more integrated with Google than it does with Twitter.  It is also easier to have longer and sustained conversations around a post than is possible with Twitter’s 140 character limit. The Google+ feed is also more visual and exciting than with other social networks.

Connecting

Google are search – so it makes sense that searching for people on Google+ should be perfect. There is already a directory that has indexed over 31 million users called FindPeopleonPlus which allows you to restrict a search by the profile information logged by Google. This kind of people search is something lacking in Twitter.

The Google+ profile is also something that will become increasingly important. Unlike Twitter which restricts you to 140 characters – Google lets you create a full profile that will act as your shop window to all of your Google activity.

In conclusion

Google+ is going to be the most public of your social network profiles. It will be fully indexed and come up early on Google search. It is also going to serve as an infrastructure behind all of Google’s applications. It is also going to radically redefine what it means to search the internet – as my next post on the world of social search will explore

My last two blog posts have explored the basic concepts of SEO and how SEO is used to get to the top of Google News. This post I want to shift over to the murky side of SEO and see how it is used as one of the ‘Dark Arts’.

An undercover investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism recently exposed the inner workings of one of Britain’s largest lobbying companies, Bell Pottinger. Posing as agents for a country with terrible human rights abuses, the investigative team secretly recorded senior executives making promises to use the ‘dark arts’ to help bury negative coverage of human rights violations and child labour.

The techniques used by Bell Pottinger ranged from using their connections to the Prime Minister to ‘fixing Wikipedia’ and manipulating Google to ‘drown’ out negative coverage of their clients.

The manipulation of Google that Bell Pottinger refers to is the mastery of SEO techniques to push positive media coverage up a Google search engine results page (known as a SERP) and to pull negative coverage down. The idea is that the higher up a SERP a link is, the more likely it is to be visited by the searcher – a study found that 42% of searchers click on the first link on a page, and that 90% click somewhere on the first 10 links.

The use of SEO to give your company a boost in search engine authority is nothing new – the process of using it to drown out negative coverage is a capability Bell Pottinger bragged about pioneering in 2007, calling it ‘Crisis Management’

(from PR Week)

The group claims the firm, headed by MD Paul Mead, will link PR with SEO in a genuinely new way.

‘Previously SEO has only been used to make sure a brand is noticed and high-up on a relevant search,’ said BP Group chairman Kevin Murray. ‘What we are doing is taking the world’s biggest reputation management tool – Google – and turning it into a tool for crisis management.’

Whilst the basic’s of SEO are simple enough, to be an expert takes a lot of effort and the field changes daily. Google is said to have over 10,000 signals that tell it how to rank web-pages - signals that are kept a closely guarded secret. It is a SEO specialists job to experiment with Google and crawl through the hundreds of blogs and forums dedicated to the topic.

The unethical dark side of SEO has a name, Black Hat Search Engine Optimisation. It is frowned upon by the more ethically minded SEO practitioners and generally considered a short term solution to an SEO problem. However, for a lobbying company like Bell Pottinger – these short term solutions can be just the fix needed to drown out negative coverage.

Common techniques include:

  • Keyword Stuffing: This is where as many keywords as possible are stuffed into the content and the meta data. This is quite an old technique that most search engines can avoid.
  • Invisible Text: Placing a long list of keywords in white text on a white background so that it is invisible to a viewer but visible to a search engine.
  • Doorway Page: A page on a website that viewers will never visit optimised for search engines. If anyone does happen to visit this page, they are redirected to the main page.
  • Link Farming: Harvesting links from unrelated pages
  • Throw Away Domains: Purchasing domains with a keyword heavy address and linking to your page.
  • Deceptive Headlines: Luring people to your site with misinformation to increase your authority.

Another interesting technique is called ‘Google Bombing‘. This is a process that involves creating lots of links around the web that point to the page being bumped up and filling the anchor text (the visible, clickable part of a hyperlink) with the keywords. One recent example was when Pro-Lifers used a Google Bomb to bring the Wikipedia page for ‘Murder’ to the top of a SERP for ‘Abortion’.

These are just a handful of techniques for unethical optimisation. SEO is a non-stop dance between the search engines that are trying to create a useful and fair search engine result page and those that try and manipulate it. Of course, the people that are the best at manipulating SEO are those that attract the highest fee’s – fee’s that only companies with the budgets of a lobbying company like Bell Pottinger can afford.

The Bell Pottinger investigation highlights the incredible importance of SEO in our digital world. If anything is to be learnt, it is that those that support human rights must learn these techniques in order to combat against them.

I last blogged some notes on the basic concepts behind SEO – Keywords, Links and Content. But what are the methods for getting a story to the top of a Google News search? Being the first news website listed on a search result page would be gold dust to a news organization.

Of course, Google doesn’t divulge the secrets of its trade – so it is up to the SEO specialists to try and work it out. A study released in September asked the top SEO practitioners of major news organisations what they thought were the most important factors. The report is wide ranging and quite detailed – so here is my reading of the most important/interesting considerations.

The ten top signals in order of importance are:

  1. Category authority – if you keep writing optimized stories about a topic then you will gain authority in that area.
  2. Keywords in headline and page titles
  3. Domain authority – the news organisation domain has lots of quality inbound links
  4. Social sharing – lots of tweets, Facebook shares and G+ mentions. This is set to become more imporant, as it has recently been announced that articles that your friends have G+’d will be highlighted
  5. First to publish the story – this will increase the amount of inbound links
  6. Citation rank – the number of high quality sites that link (cite) to a news story
  7. Unique articles
  8. High CTR (click through rates) – the more clicks a site gets from either Google News or other Google SERPs (search engine results page).
  9. Quality content – Google evaluates the quality of the content and looks for things like typo’s and copied content. Apparently – one spelling mistake can blacklist your site!
  10. Use of Google News XML sitemap – a way of structuring your news site in a way that Google can easily understand

Other important factors to consider are:

  • Using an author tag (a HTML tag that declares the author of an article)
  • Having many different authors
  • Number of articles published by that author
  • Local relevance – a local website would rank highly on a local issue
  • Using a syndication tag – if content is syndicated out to other sites, this tag lets Google know which was the original source.
  • Keyword should be first word of page title (for more keyword specific considerations click here)
  • Google will search for the presence of words it considers related to the news story
  • Up-votes for the article on social sites like StumbleUpon and Reddit are relevant
  • A good sentiment of words used in citations and social links.
  • Creating several articles about a topic in a short time increases authority
  • The number of images in an article is important – and the image should be hosted on the same domain as the article
  • A long download time for the article will negatively affect authority

An understanding of SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) is important to anyone that creates content for the web. SEO is the process of making a website show up as high as possible in search engine results, which increases the chances of it being visited by the searcher.

The world of SEO is enormous, and there are many different methods available. Getting the right combination of SEO factors, or signals, is the key to SEO success. The exact recipe for how a company like Google performs search is a company secret, but is said to involve 10,000 different ranking signals!

So, whilst you could never hope to learn them all, here is an overview of some of the main methods that you can understand and start considering for your site.

Inbound Links

The number of inbound links (or backlinks) to your website is a key method that search engines use to assess the authority of your website. It is a major feature of Google’s PageRank search algorithm as well as other major search engines like Technorati.

When a website links to yours it acts as a ‘vote’ of authority and improves the SEO of your site. The more inbound links you have to your website, the more authority your site is given.

Some inbound links are worth more than others – so a link from from the Guardian or the BBC is worth much more than a link from a small WordPress blog.

Also, if the site that links to yours has similar content then the link is considered more relevant than from a site that features irrelevant content.

A further consideration is the anchor text of the link. Anchor text refers to the words that are visible on a page and constitute the length of the link. If the inbound link includes lots of relevant anchor text then it improves the SEO rating.

Blog Comments

When you leave a comment on a news site or blog, you are normally given the opportunity to include a link to your site. Whilst this link is largely ignored by the major search engines, it can still draw traffic to a website if the comment is interesting enough to warrant a readers further interest.

Keywords

In order to show up in search engines, you need to know what words and phrases people are searching for. If you are running a beauty website, do people use the word ‘face cosmetics’ or ‘make-up’ more often? Ensuring that you have a high quantity of these highly searched for terms is key to driving traffic to your site.

Keyword Density is the percentage of your page that is made up of that keyword. So, if you have 100 words and 10 of them are the keyword then you have a 10% keyword density for that keyword. Whilst it may be tempting to continually repeat the key words throughout the site, it is important to strike a balance between repetition and good sounding writing.

Also – too high a keyword density will make Google think you are spam. A good rule of thumb is 3-6% keyword density. If you are struggling to find places to include the keywords, use them in place of pronouns.

Where these words are placed is also important. The main areas to place keywords are:

  • Domain Name – Google ranks pages with a keyword in the URL highly. Ensure that any blog posts have the dominant keywords included in the URL.
  • Headers – Don’t go for puns or clever titles when naming a page, but make them as explanatory and keyword filled as possible. There are several different types of headers and sub headers, and a search engine will look at all of them for clues to the sites content.
  • File names – If you are uploading media, make sure you name the file type an appropriate keyword.
  • Meta description – This bit appears underneath your site in search results, so make sure it includes the keywords. If you are blogging using WordPress, you can add a plugin that lets you write a meta description for each post.
Researching is an important part of finding the right keywords and here is a pretty comprehensive list of tools to use.

Content

Having good quality content is the most important element of SEO.  Search engines have access to the amount of time users spend on your page and know if people are clicking links on your page or bouncing straight away again.

You need to ensure that you are offering something that other people are not. Content should be fresh, topical and relevant – this is the kind of content that is enjoyed and shared by people.

Keeping content fresh is also important for another reason. If a particular search term becomes unusually popular for a short amount of time, Google will work out why – and if you have content associated with the reason for this spike you will improve your SEO. This is called Query Deserved Freshness – read more here.

To find out more about SEO – check out the authoritative Search Engine Land

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