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Published on November 3, 2010
On 3 November 2010 when site owners went to Google Analytics to view their statistics they probably had something of a shock to find that on 2 November 2010 they had no site visits... not a single one ... zero ... none ... nill ... naught ... zilch....
Initially questions from our own clients arose such as whether we'd removed the tracking code or done something to prevent either Google Analytics from working or blocking the site so nobody could view it. Of course, that hadn't happened and some Internet searches later we realised that we were not alone with the Google stats problem as chat forums were buzzing with reports of the same problem.
Meanwhile, and as with our previous report of perfectly good pages vanishing from Google, the Internet giant has so far remained silent.
So, what could be the potential causes? Here's our top-5 selection... let us know if you have more!
- Someone's pushed the wrong button at Google and the entire Analytics system has failed
- The guy at Google who pushes the button to generate out Analytics stats every day is still out voting in the mid-term elections, or perhaps still partying if he (or she) is a Republican
- Google's decided that a day of mystery and guesswork will add some excitement to our lives
- We've all been moved to a parallel universe where nobody browses the Internet
- Google's winding down it's business and trying to wean us off it gently, service-by-service
Of course, maybe they're all wrong. Maybe we did just disable all of our client's sites for a day because we didn't have much else to do on Tuesday. I'm not sure the world's ended just yet, but it does make you realise that as a business owner just how much a part of your life Google really is when you're trying to work out your ROI's, CTRs, CPCs and other important acronyms.
Come on Google - let us know what's happening....
03/11/10 UPDATE: Just a couple of hours after writing this article, Analytics is back. The world is saved and we can all sleep easy in our beds tonight knowing our web sites are actually being visited.
Published on October 29, 2010
We noticed this morning that Google UK may be testing location-based search results based upon the location of the user. Presumably, Google is identifying the user’s location from their IP address and is then showing a mix of results from Google Places and the normal search results. This is good and bad for site owners as our article will go on to explain.
One such test was ‘car parking controls’. This is a non-geographic based search (for example, we’re not searching for ‘car parking controls in London’) so should return results from throughout the UK - and indeed this is exactly what it used to do. This morning, though, we noticed that Google UK has mixed in the map results from Google Maps (now called Google Places) as well as showing a map on the right hand side. Additionally, a new shortcut to Places is shown on the left hand side, which when clicked will only show the Places results. Each of the embedded Places results are highlighted with a marker, showing they are the results local to the user (our search was conducted from Kent). The image below demonstrates this:
What this means for site owners.
First off, Google may only be testing this feature so it could be removed quite quickly, or it could be rolled out to more keywords and eventually all of search in due course. At the time of writing it appears to be limited to a few of Google’s search servers and a few selected keywords.
If you haven’t already claimed your Google Places (formerly Google Maps) listing, do so now. If you’re not sure on how to do this, contact us for assistance.
Make sure you build up inbound links to your site that are relevant to your local area, and get listed on local directories. This will help to boost your local presence.
If you trade nationally and have relied on non-geographic keywords for your listings, there are going to less spots available in the top-10 for natural search as some will be taken up by Google Places listings. This means that you need to work harder and aim to get into the top-5 to ensure your listing isn’t bumped to page 2 of Google’s rankings.
If you trade locally then this development is extremely beneficial to you – so long as you can optimise your listing on Google Places. This is because for searches taking place locally to you, Google is going to pick Google Places listings in your area and mix them in with the natural results. If you are listing well for Google Places, then you could then start to appear well for more non-geographic searches too.
If you currently pay for Google advertising, you may find your click through rate (CTR) drops if your average position is greater than 3. This is because the map now pushes the advertisements below the fold on the right hand side. This, in turn, could create a bidding war for positions 1, 2 and 3 so pushing up your advertising costs (note that Google varies the number of advertisements appearing above the natural listings).
Our advice at this time is to focus on optimising your local presence using the steps above, and in conjunction with a good optimisation team that knows how to optimise for Google Places effectively and ethically.
Right now it’s too early to say if Google will keep this format. Google likes to experiment and this could be another test to see how this format performs. The format may not stay exactly as it is, not least because Google’s paid adverts are also getting pushed below the fold on the right hand side and this could decrease advertising revenues – time will tell though, as it may be that increased revenue from positions 1-3 at the top of page actually balance the decreased revenues for the lower-placed paid advertisements.
Published on October 27, 2010
We noticed that on 22 October one of our clients, who has held top-5 listings on Google for many keywords for many years, suddenly had a random batch of pages removed from Google. Our client's site was carefully not over optimised, had unique content, unique meta data, unbiased website reviews - basically, everything Google looks for in a site. Most of the random batch of pages were completely removed, others lost positions whilst other pages maintained their existing positions without problem. To further complicate things, pages with a lower 'value' to Google started appearing near the top of their rankings in their place.
This left us baffled. Why has Google suddenly dropped pages and positions for a perfectly good site? A bit of research suggests that we're not alone and there are webmasters and SEO specialists around the globe scratching their heads asking exactly the same question having experienced exactly the same problem.
Then we started to look a bit further. Could this be down to another co-incidental issue? An error at Google?
On 22 October, reports started to emerge that Google wasn't indexing brand new content. CNN was one site flagged as an example. On 24 October Matt Cutts of Google reported via Twitter 'Just fyi, the right people on our indexing team are resolving the issue that people have reported', which suggests the problem was still apparent two days later. Which then led us to think that perhaps this is all a bit coincidental; Google admits an indexing problem around 22 October and good web sites around the globe suddenly start losing rankings at the same time.... hmmmmm...
Our theory leads us to believe that what might have happened is that Google's indexers failed (this we know), however not only for new content but also for existing pages being reindexed (this we can't confirm). If that's the case, what could have happened is that the pages went to be re-indexed, the indexers failed, which led Google to 'believe' the pages being reindexed no longer existed so they were pulled from the Google search results. Now, for sites like CNN that are indexed almost in real time we'd expect any missing pages to re-appear pretty quickly after the indexing technology is fixed. But, for those of us with sites that aren't quite that big, that will be indexed perhaps every few weeks, that could mean that it will be a few weeks before those 'missing' pages are reindexed, rediscovered and added back in to the indexes.
To us, this theory backs up with the timing of Google's own admission, as well as the random nature of the page removals our client experienced.
The other theory, of course, is there's been a large-scale algorithm update as happened in May / June 2010. Although, this doesn't seem to follow through quite as well, as we would have expected to see different results to those we saw with our client as well as with other sites we've seen reporting the same type of problem. At this stage, there doesn't seem to be a pattern that would back this up. We might be wrong of course, and if we are time will tell!
So, for webmasters, SEO experts and site owners what's our advice? Don't panic! As with all things Google, first sit tight for a few weeks and see what transpires. If our theory is right, then everything should return to normal in the next few weeks. If the algorithm change theory is right, then in the next few weeks it will become more evident who the winners and losers were, and how you can adjust your site to get back into favour with Google. Either way, action now wouldn't be prudent - hard as it is, take a deep breath, relax, and see what unfolds.
Published on October 20, 2010
We're often asked if it's possible to guarantee a number one ranking on Google, with clients showing us references to companies that claim they can. The following video, direct from Google, helps to dispell the myth that no. 1 rankings can be guaranteed. Should you be approached by a company claiming they can guarantee positions in this way, you should beware.
This is not to say that optimisation cannot work for a site because it can - and does. We have many clients that have benefitted from search engine optimisation campaigns. But, any SEO campaign should be undertaken in an ethical manner with realistic expectations as to the placement results. Good SEO involves a good working partnership and a high level of understanding between the client and the optimisation company. When that's in place, you'll build a business plan that is achievable and successful, with search engine position you'll be happy with not just tomorrow, but in the months and years to come.
Published on April 30, 2009
It's a sensational title, I know, but the underlying message it delivers is true; if you work with the wrong optimisation company to improve your search engine rankings you could end up being blacklisted for months or even years by the search engines.
"So how do you decide who's good and who's not?" I hear you ask. Well first, let's just step back to look at some key elements of optimisation:
On-page optimisation techniques. These include changes to the TITLE and META tags, the page content, the links between pages and the links out to other sites.
Inbound linking. These include links from directory sites, sites related to your industry, a few sites not related to your industry, blogs, social networking sites, and more.
Articles and content. These include on-topic articles about your business or industry that can either be placed on your web site or on a 3rd party site with a link back to your site.
This isn't a complete list, but it is fair to say that they do represent a large proportion of what is done. Three bullet points makes it sound quite simple and quick to do. However, the reality is quite different ' optimisation is a highly complex and highly intensive processes. It is neither quick nor easy to be a master in achieving top placed rankings for your company.
So when you come to judge a company's ability to optimise your site, look out for the following:
Price. If it is too cheap to be true, then that is probably is the case. We have heard of clients who have paid for cheap optimisation deals only to find that the whole task has been done completely using automated tools are about as effective as doing nothing. Optimisation is a manual task that can only effectively be completed with manual intervention and review. Of course, automated tools can assist with some support tasks but can never be the mainstay of the campaign.
Speed. Be wary of companies offering guaranteed Google listings in a matter of days as the primary feature of their service. The only way this can be achieved is through pay-per-click advertising. Indeed, we have seen clients that have paid for such services only to find that their so called 'optimization' campaign was nothing more than pay-per-click though and through.
Techniques. There is good optimisation, bad optimisation and ignorant optimisation. The first of these are companies that will do everything by the book, never using techniques that will likely cause the site problems now or in the future. Bad optimisation is the opposite; companies that deliberately use unethical optimisation techniques that might generate you the results in the short term, but in the longer term will result in your website being banned and blacklisted by the search engines. Finally, there is ignorant optimisation. These are companies that just give bad or outdated advice - not through any attempt to deceive but simply because they haven't kept up with the latest changes in optimisation (a frequently changing industry). Such companies may inadvertently cause your site to be penalised by the search engines and at best will not help you to see the returns you desire.
Whilst Price and Speed are relatively easy to spot, Techniques is much harder unless you are technically aware. So how can you identify a bad or ignorant optimisation company?
Ask for examples of positions achieved in highly competitive fields. By highly competitive, we mean that if you search for a term and there are 1-2 million or more search returns.
Next, ask to speak to the clients that they are demonstrating positions for. When you contact them, find out how long it took to achieve those positions, how often the SEO company provides reports on positions, how often they offer advice on how to improve the positions further through things that can be done on the site.
What you are seeking to find out here is that the client's top-placed positions didn't happen overnight but over a period of months (or even years), that they have been maintaining those positions for some while, and that the SEO company provides at least bi-monthly reporting and at least quarterly advice on site improvements that will help with better positions. This demonstrates via a non-technical means that the SEO company is using best practice ' it isn't an absolute, but does provide you with a good rule of thumb
Visit the client's web site with the top positions and select Edit -> Select All from your browser's menu bar. When you do this, does any text on the page suddenly appear where previously you couldn't see it? This is a very old practice, but some companies still believe that it works for top-placed positions. If you see this, find another company.
Finally, ask the optimization company how they build links. Do they (a) Use automated programs to build links (bad), (b) Manually build links from selected websites without investigating the sites that they link from other than making sure it has good 'PageRank' (bad), (c) Manually build links from selected web sites, checking each site to ensure that it is reputable, has a good inbound link structure of its own, is related well to your industry, and has good 'PageRank' (good).
If you select a search engine marketing company well, you can expect high ranking positions and a long and prosperous relationship together. However, if you select badly the effects can be long-lasting and potentially devastating. For example, it is known that Google has the ability to store copies of your site from the day that you created it. This means, copies of all of the techniques you have used to optimise it. We also know that Google actively penalises sites for breaching its best practice guidelines in ways that deliberately and unethically try to manipulate the index. On that basis, the next logical step is that as the volume of sites grows, Google could start to give sites that have always been ethical in their approach better treatment and positions that sites that at some time or another have used more dubious methods. On that basis, we recommend that from the earliest moment you seek out an use only the best, proven optimisation companies that you can find.
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