Once upon a time, when you searched the Web at Google, the results displayed were limited to a list of 10 pages with page title, snippet of text from meta description or page content, and URL to that page. We’ve been seeing the search engines diversifying what they might display for certain pages, with special formats for things like forum posts, Q&A listings, pages that include events, and sometimes sitelinks or quicklinks to other pages as well.
The URL shown for some pages might have hinted at the structure of sites and locations of pages within a site hierarchy, if they showed directories and subdirectories within paths to pages. Some websites include breadcrumb navigation on their pages to show you more explicitly where you might be at within a site, and provide an easy way to visit higher categories. Google has started showing those breadcrumb listings for some pages, to make those listings more useful for searchers, and to make it more clear where those pages are within the hierarchy of a site.
For years the New York Times website was a great example I could point people to of a very high profile site doing one of the basics of SEO very very wrong.
If you visited the site at “http://newyorktimes.com/” you would see a toolbar pagerank of 7 for its homepage. If instead you visited the site at “http://www.newyorktimes.com/” you would see a toolbar PageRank of 9 for the site. The New York Times pages resolved at both sets of URLs, with and without the www hostname. Because all indexed pages of the site were accessible with and without the “www”, those pages weren’t getting all the PageRank that they should have been, splitting PageRank between the two versions of the site, and that probably cost them in rankings at Google, and in traffic from the Web. Google likely also wasted their own bandwidth and the Times returning to crawl both versions of the site instead of just one of them.
A few years ago, someone with at least a basic knowledge of SEO came along and fixed the New York Times site so that if you followed a link to a page on the site without the “www”, you would be sent to the “www” version with the use of a status code 301 redirect. The change ruined the example that I loved showing people, primarily because even very well known websites make mistakes and ignore the basics. It’s one of the things that makes the Web a place where small businesses can compete against much larger companies with much higher budgets.
Timing is everything. On Monday, I was asked if I would give a presentation at the Internet Summit 2011 in Raleigh, NC on November 15th and 16th on an advanced SEO topic. I thought about it, and agreed, and decided to give a presentation on how social media has been transforming search on Tuesday night. On Thursday morning, Google delivered a present in the form of a Blog post at the Official Google Blog titled Giving you fresher, more recent search results.
The title for my presentation is “Next Level SEO: Social Media Integration” and the basic premise is that social media has changed the expectation of searchers. Searchers want fresher content, they want to see what their friends and contacts have to say, and they want access to experts and authority figures and their thoughts on timely events and news. Search engines have no recourse but to respond.
I didn’t see the Google blog post until yesterday afternoon, and quickly wrote up some of my thoughts at Google Plus regarding Fresher Results at Google? There are a number of other very thoughtful reactions to the change, and I thought I might point those out, and maybe expand upon my thoughts from yesterday.
Sometimes when you search at Google, you might not find any results that you find interesting and may search again using a somewhat similar query. Chances are that you don’t want to see the same sites or pages all over again. A newly granted patent from Google describes how the search engine might demote results for pages from sites that show up in an earlier search when they appear in your results during a following search during the same query session.
For example, imagine that you search for [black jacket] and don’t see any results that you like on the first page, regardless of whether you clicked upon any of them or not. Instead of going to the second page, you search for [black coat]. Since the queries are related, it’s possible that you might see results from some of the same sites in both searches, which the patent refers to as “repetitive” search results. Google may take your decision to search more as an indication that you weren’t satisfied with the pages shown in the first set of results, and may demote some of the “repetitive” sites or pages from that first query so they aren’t as prominent in the second set of search results.
So, your search for [black jacket] might show a page from the site “Winter Coats Online.” You might click upon it, or you might not. Regardless, when you move on to search for [black coat], if a page (the same page or another page) from “Winter Coats Online” would have ranked highly for that search, Google might push it down in search results so that it isn’t listed as prominently.
You go to a site that you’ve enjoyed and bookmarked sometime in the past but haven’t visited in a while, and it’s changed. The topics it discusses are different, or the writing style isn’t quite the same, or it suddenly has links within its content to commercial pages that it probably wouldn’t have linked to before, or all of those things. It also seems heavily focused upon more commercial terms and content. It’s changed, and now its pages now have the appearance of what many might call “doorway pages.”
Doorway pages have also been referred to by terms like gateway pages, entry pages, bridge pagers, portal pages, and their primary purpose is to attract visitors from search engines in order to send them to other places.
As a site owner, you don’t want Google to start identifying your pages as doorway pages. Google’s Webmaster Guidelines tell us to:
One question I’m sometimes asked by people is about whether or not they should choose a domain name that includes the name of their business or brand, or if they should use keywords within a domain name to make it easier for them to rank for those keywords in Google and the other search engines. I often explain that while it may help them ranking for the phrase chosen if they use a keyword domain (often referred to as an exact match domain, or emd), that I usually prefer domain names using a brand, and that the best domain names tend to be somewhat short, memorable, and easy to spell, with emphasis on the “memorable.”
I have seen a lot of discussion on the Web about keywords in domain names, and a number of people discussing their experiments with exact match domains, and how those may help a site to rank for terms used in the domain name. The following video was uploaded at the Google Webmaster Help Channel this past March, with the Head of Google’s Web Spam team, Matt Cutts answering the question, “How would you explain ‘The Power of Keyword Domains’ to someone looking to take a decision what kind of domain to go for?”
When search engines return web pages in search results in response to a query, most people assume that the pages being show are the ones that a search engine has decided are the “best” pages in response to their search terms. But what does the word “best” mean in that context? The search engines attempt to show pages that are both relevant to the query (and the intent of a searcher), and are popular.
The intuition is that if your query matches tens of thousands of documents, you would be happier looking at documents that many people thought to mention in their web pages, or that people who had important pages mentioned at least a few times.
Can patents be said to have family histories? If so, this post is going to introduce a barely known ancestor to one of the most written about search related patents on the Web, as well as a brand new grandchild to the patent.
The patent is Google’s Information retrieval based on historical data, which was filed in 2003, and granted in 2008. When it was published as a pending patent application in 2005, it created a pretty big stir amongst the forums and blogs of the search community.
The patent has two focuses which both take advantage of recording changes to a site over time. One is to help identify web spam, and the other is to help avoid stale documents being returned in response to a query. It raised questions between SEOs such as how important are the ages of domains and of links, as well as:
Does Google favor fresher sites over older sites, or older sites over fresher sites?
Even more, how does Google weigh the age of a website?
Are the search engines looking at whois data to see who owns websites, and if there has been a change of ownership?
If the content of a site changes, and the anchor text pointing to it remains the same even though it’s no longer relevant, will it still rank for the terms in the anchor text?
If you buy a website and make changes to it, will the PageRank for that site start to evaporate or expire?