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Google “Farmer” Algorithm Announcement

By Chris Thoren, Supervisor, Content Solutions

On Thursday, February 24th, Google announced an update to its Search Algorithm. Google updates its Natural Search algorithm on a regular basis, but this particular one has more far-reaching implications. According to Google, this update affects close to 12% of site rankings for U.S.-based searches. This may not seem like a high percentage, but given the amount of searches on a daily basis (Google also claims 1 out of every 4 queries are new or unique), a shift in rankings will likely have a big impact to sites that were enjoying 1st page rankings, especially if they were above the fold.

What type of site is Google targeting? Google actually says they are targeting low quality sites, also known as content farms:  “As ‘pure webspam’ has decreased over time, attention has shifted instead to ‘content farms,’ which are sites with shallow or low-quality content. In 2010, we launched two major algorithmic changes focused on low-quality sites.”  So what does this mean for site owners and webmasters?

  • Unique, useful content  Creating content that is well-structured and (not too) optimized is all well and good, but it’s not enough anymore for people to take notice.  The World Wide Web is a crowded space and the job of the Search Engine is to take a query and find the most relevant results as quickly as possible.  When you think about it, that’s lot of noise to filter through.  However, as users reward interesting content with Facebook Likes, tweets and re-tweets, the Search Engines pick up on these signals and may adjust their rankings accordingly.  Both Google and Bing have confirmed they look at this Social graph when ranking results.  The focus of the engines has always been on the end user, and so should site owners and webmasters.  The premise here is simple: create content for your users, not the Search Engines.
  • Relevant content (complementary to your site theme)  As unique, rich content is indexed, distributed, and ultimately rewarded with higher rankings (in most cases), your content strategy align with your site’s overarching theme.  Note: we’re not recommending building your content around your site’s business goals and objectives; rather, structure it based on your site’s identity in an intuitive manner.  As Graywolf points out, it’s not all about monetizing your content.  Yes, there is a time and place for that, but your content should be well-rounded and align with the user’s search behavior.  For example, if your site sells blue widgets, then your content structure should be informational (general info about blue widgets), transactional (blue widget reviews, popular widgets, etc.) and socially-focused (how to choose the best widget, top 10 mistakes when buying a widget, etc.).  This will resonate with your end user no matter where they are in their search phase, along with encouraging them to share your content.

  • Keyword Optimization is not enough Webmasters and marketers should demand more from their content.  Low quality content can be optimized and seeded with keywords, but ultimately do not provide real use for the visitor.  This is essentially the content Google is aiming to eliminate from its search results.  At Resolution Media, understanding query intent and understanding the true essence of why a user performs a certain query has been at the heart of our Search Behavior Analysis.  This is largely because our philosophy aligns with Google’s which is that quality content that meets the needs of your user provides a better experience.  It keeps users loyal to Google, and at the same time, reduces bounce rates and increases conversions.

Either way, the premise still remains the same: write with your end user in mind, and not specifically for the Search Engines.  It could be a slippery slope, but if you take a step back and ask, “Would I find this useful/helpful?” or “Would I want to share this with my peers?”  Then you’re creating content in a meaningful way.  Webmasters and marketers who have consistently been creating content in this fashion really have nothing to worry about.  If you’ve been creating content for the purposes of injecting keywords in body copy, or hiring out copywriters for the sole purpose of seeding keywords, then perhaps it is time to change strategies. Demand more from the content you create, and don’t focus strictly on sheer keyword density.  Resolution Media has always provided this direction to our clients and, thus, our client base hasn’t been affected like other SEOs in the industry.

For more information on the Google “Farmer” Update, visit:
For additional information, please visit our Digital Marketing Blog: www.FindResolution.com/.

A Wishlist for Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools

By Al Kao, Natural Search Supervisor, Content Solutions

Recently Google announced a new development for Webmaster Tools: Linking Analytics to Webmaster Tools.

With this new feature, you can link your website’s Google Webmaster Tools with your Google Analytics account. This is seems like a great idea.

After all, Analytics is instrumental in assessing a website’s performance and in measuring SEO. Webmaster Tools continues to grow into as a critical tool for diagnosing SEO. So useful is Webmaster Tools for SEO that even Google produced a video and blog post about how to use Webmaster Tools like an SEO!

After playing with this new “feature,” one thing is clear: this is a positive step in the right direction for Google. Linking accounts will definitely make managing a website – and SEO – much more efficient.

Here are some of our initial observations:
  • First, this integration links the Analytics account with the Webmaster Tools account. Right now, there are no additional new features or new analytical tools.
  • Second, there are only two new links available:
    1. Link at the top of the Webmasters Tools Dashboard  (AdWords  AdSense  Analytics  Apps)
    2. Link to “Referring Sites” in Google Analytics from the “Links to Your Site” overview
Since this is just an initial rollout of this integration, we expect Google will continually rollout new features as time goes on, just like they continually do with Webmaster Tools.

But, while we wait for Google to rollout new features to this integration, why not make a list of features we would like to see?

Here’s our Google Webmaster Tools-Analytics Integration Wish List of Features:
  1. Display Historical Webmaster Tools “Top Queries” data – The Top Queries data in Webmaster Tools shows impressions and average positions. This data is incredibly useful because it goes beyond “rankings”. Search “rankings” with personalized search, universal search, and local results, is, for all intents and purposes, obsolete. But right now, Webmaster Tools only shows data for about 1 month. To have this data archived along with Analytics data would be absolute pure gold.
  2. Compare Crawl Stats with Visitor Traffic – The Crawl Stats data show how well Googlebot crawls the website based on pages crawled per day, download time, etc. Page load speed is confirmed as factor in search rankings. Visitor traffic can also be affected by page load speed. To be able to quickly compare overall visitor traffic with the Crawl Stats would paint a valuable picture of the overall performance of the website.
  4. Compare Site Performance with Visitor Traffic – Another good high level comparison feature is compare the “Site Performance” data, under “Labs” in Webmaster Tools, with overall visitors. Just like above, it will give an overall sense of how site performance affects site traffic.
  6. Compare Crawl Errors with Visitor Traffic (and Average Positions) – The Crawl Errors data display website errors that Googlebot encountered while crawling the website. The errors include 404-not found, 403-errors, etc. Generally, any site error is a concern. But knowing visitor traffic to those specific error pages can help illustrate how much traffic is lost and how important it is to be sure site errors are fixed as soon as possible. Along with knowing the “lost visitors” due to pages with site errors, how about the lost visibility from the “Average Position” of the pages with errors? When sites go through content and URL changes, no thought is given to natural rankings that the old pages being replaced may have. Having the average position of the replaced/obsolete pages help further illustrate the importance of fixing site/page errors as soon as possible.
  7. Quantify & Detail Anchor Text Count – The Anchor Text data in the “Links to your site” section shows the variety of anchor text that links to your site. It is valuable information to assess how optimized your link-building is. But the current data does not show the quantity of sites that link in using a particular anchor text phrase. For SEO, this kind of detail would be tremendously valuable.
Hope that some of these items in the list are already in development at Google. Until then, wait eagerly for new announcements.

Why Mobile Friendly Is Not Mobile SEO

By Bryson Meunier, Associate Director, Content Solutions
Originally appeared on Search Engine Land

My Google Reader feed went haywire with “mobile SEO” alerts when Google posted their “Making Websites Mobile Friendly” advice on the Google Webmaster Central Blog. The odd thing is, they didn’t say anything about SEO or search quality in the post, which has to do with how Google crawls and indexes mobile websites today.

SEOs and Search Engine Land readers know that search engine optimization at a very basic level is the practice of making content more visible in search engines by ensuring that a site is properly crawled and indexed, that it contains the content users want using the queries they use to search for that content, and that the content is properly marketed to those users through link building or some other method of content distribution.

What Google posted (in the above link) related entirely to crawling and indexing, and contained nothing at all about returning the proper content for the proper queries, or making that content visible to mobile users when they’re looking for it.

The distinction should be painfully clear to anyone who has searched for a mobile site on their Android or iPhone recently. The current smartphone version of Google search returns a lot of results related to Mobile, Alabama when you do a navigational search for a mobile site and the mobile site you’re looking for either: doesn’t exist, has been excluded for fear of duplicating content, or uses handheld stylesheets to render content.

I tried to find an example of a popular site that has a lot of search volume from smartphones that fits this mold, but of the 30 sites I looked at that showed up in the Google keyword tool as having high demand for their brand plus the word “mobile” (excluding software and mobile carrier queries), all sites delivered mobile sites to smartphone user agents.

No sites in this sample of 685k monthly smartphone searches for mobile sites use handheld stylesheets to render mobile content or are apparently run by webmasters who are concerned about diluting their link equity with mobile content.

If you do want to see an example of a site that has a mobile version, but is excluded from the index with robots.txt, try searching [home depot mobile site] on a smartphone.

Figure 1 [home depot mobile site] on an iPhone 4 shows criticism, a mobile site for an arena and a desktop site for mobile homes, but no home depot mobile site in the organic listings. Home Depot used to send their mobile traffic to a Digby site that was nofollowed in robots.txt. They’ve since redirected smartphones to an iPad compatible site, but the Digby site is still in Google’s index.

The Great Mobile SEO Divide
If this debate is new to you there are essentially two camps among SEOs when it comes to creating mobile content: the one URL SEO camp and the mobile URL SEO camp (which is a microcosm of the One Web vs Mobile Web debate that has been going on for years in the mobile marketing and development community).

The one URL SEO camp, represented ably in the past by Barry Schwartz, Michael Martin, Cindy Krum, Rand Fishkin et al is in favor of displaying one URL to mobile and desktop users alike, and rendering the content with handheld stylesheets for mobile users. It’s clearly easier than developing two sites, and it doesn’t create two URLs, potentially splitting the site’s link popularity and making it more difficult to rank for competitive terms.

The mobile URL SEO camp, represented ably in the past by dotMobi, Shari Thurow, Yours Truly, Matt Cutts and others maintain that there is no evidence of reduced ranking of mobile sites as a result of split link popularity; and that treating mobile sites as duplicate content in the same way that printable URLs are duplicate content is a false analogy, as no one is actively looking for printable copies of pages in search engines and search engines don’t treat mobile sites as duplicate content.

Mobile users require a mobile user experience, and without it they might get content that is confusing or irrelevant, and will convert at a lower rate.

When Google came out with their “official” stance on this through the Webmaster Central Blog (official is in quotes, as they’ve said something slightly different with regard to mobile URLs on theWebmaster Central YouTube channel last month and at Searchology 2009), this is essentially what they said:

  •  Mobile user detection is not cloaking (Which they have said before here, here (PDF) and here).
  • Google currently has no way of delivering mobile content created for smartphones, but this may change in the future.
  • If you haven’t created mobile content, you don’t have to do anything but your content may be transcoded for certain users.
  • Mobile as Google defines it today primarily refers to feature phones (or “traditional” phones) that don’t have full internet browsers.
  • Mobile URLs are fine. The best practice when serving mobile content at mobile URLs (like m.*.com) is to use mobile browser detection and permanently redirect mobile user agents. If this is done, Google will be able to serve the right content to the right users (as they have said before in the Google SEO Starter Guide).
  • Mobile sitemaps are intended for feature phone content.
When Google put out this announcement my Google Reader filled up with a few sources I respect and many I’ve never heard of proclaiming that Google has officially said you don’t need mobile URLs for mobile SEO.

Of course, the post never says this, or anything about mobile SEO. What it says is that webmasters don’t need to do anything for mobile users right now, as Google will make their desktop sites mobile friendly when they think it’s appropriate.

If being crawled and returned for certain mobile users is enough for you, continue to do nothing and you will probably be “mobile friendly” in spite of yourself. But don’t call it SEO.

SEOs know that transcoders can make a site unusable, and sometimes make it impossible for search engine traffic to convert. SEOs also know that mobile users prefer mobile content, and convert at a higher level when given mobile content on a mobile device. SEOs also know that people search differently on their mobile phones than they do on their desktop computers, and transcoded or mobile formatted content may not include the queries they’re searching for or calls to action that make sense in their context.

SEOs now also know that Google uses toolbar data in its ranking algorithms, and a high bounce rate or other metrics that can be measured by the toolbar can theoretically adversely affect a web site’s ranking in search engines, including the kind that is created by serving desktop content to smartphone users. In other words, SEOs know that what Google calls “mobile friendly” in this article is not often what is best for site owners and users.

Google recognizes this, more or less, in the post, and says “However, for many websites it may still make sense for the content to be formatted differently for smartphones, and the decision to do so should be based on how you can best serve your users.” It’s noncommittal on Google’s part on mobile SEO, and leaves it up to the site owner to serve mobile content in a way that best serves the users.

For me, that way is still redirecting mobile user agents to mobile URLs with mobile-specific user experiences, as that’s what the data says they respond to best. You can make a site “mobile friendly” without following this advice, but optimization is something else entirely.

For now, webmasters can get by with either strategy, provided they don’t mind not appearing for navigational searches or any of the other search quality issues mentioned above. But given that Google is ostensibly about providing the best result for the user’s query in context, and their top priorities for 2011 are all mobile, just doing the bare minimum to satisfy the growing base of mobile users is not likely to work forever.

Goodbye FBML. Hello Iframes: A New Era for Facebook Pages

By Aaron Friedman, Coordinator, Content Solutions
Originally appeared on Digital Highrise

About a week ago, Facebook announced changes to Facebook pages. FBML (Facebook Markup Language) is being phased out and as of March 11, 2011 there will no longer be the ability to create new FBML apps for pages. Instead, Facebook is going to be relying on Iframes for its apps, which is great news. FBML was difficult to work with and making new, custom apps will rely entirely on HTML.

A couple of observations and thoughts on these changes:

  • Iframes mean that the content will be living on an external website. Since this is the case, in theory, we should be able to add tracking codes like Google Analytics or Omniture and get more data than we were able to before. This is a huge WIN in the integrating search and social realm.
  • The overall look of the Facebook Fan Page is different. It looks a lot more like a personal page than anything. Which is good to keep consistency. It also looks cleaner and more professional.
  • The tab section at the top is gone. This will now be replaced by images (like the ones on the personal pages). This isn’t a huge difference as they will still be available on the left side and fully customizable. But the addition of the pictures allows for more customization and creativity. There are many examples of customizing the Facebook image (more cool examples via Mashable).

  • Better usability for the admin of the page. Admin’s can get email notification when changes when comments or posts are made which is a nice little perk to stay up to date on happenings. I know I have already started getting these for a number of the pages I am an admin for.
  • And on that same note, as an admin, we can now make comments on these posts as individuals and help promote the content. Previously this showed up as the client page making a comment. Now there is the ability to switch between the two which IMHO is awesome. (I guess this starts to border on the giving full disclosure issue by the FTC).
Sounds promising. Here is an article from Hubspot giving a walkthrough on how to setup iframes, in case anyone asks.  I am sure there will be many more articles on this subject to come.

The United State of Social & Mobile Marketing

By Bryson Meunier
Originally appeared on Search Engine Land

Raise your hand if you’ve had to choose between mobile and social for your emerging media budget this year. Budgets sometimes have a line item for social and a line for mobile, but in truth, sometimes it’s difficult to tell them apart.

Case in point: this past week Facebook CTO Bret Taylor said “My sense is that mobile devices are inherently social… [mobile devices are] already filled with your contacts and your friends, and they also have access to your location.”

We know from social networks, research firms and user search queries that users of social networks are frequently accessing them from mobile devices, and mobile users are frequently accessing social networks as part of their daily mobile routines.

Marketers may be thinking about mobile and social as separate line items that require different specialists, agencies and strategies, and to some extent they do; but their social networking efforts are going to reach mobile users and their mobile efforts will be incomplete without some sort of social component.

The blurred line between social and mobile may be obvious in the case of mobile social networks like Foursquare and Gowalla, but the line applies to social networks with more reach as well.
Click here to read more.

The Two Sides of SEO

By Bryson Meunier, Associate Director, Content Solutions

Originally Appeared on Search Engine Land

Often, when people in the industry talk about the two sides of SEO, they’re talking about black hat and white hat tactics.

Having worked as an SEO since 2003 and in Internet marketing since 2000, both with Fortune 50 and mom and pop businesses with business goals as different as night and day, I think the distinction is deeper than just black hat and white hat.

It seems the best way to illustrate this is with a description of two SEOs, in the literary tradition of Goofus and Gallant:

Two Sides Of Link Building

  • This SEO refers to herself as a link builder, and spends all day checking reports from the software that automatically sends out reciprocal email requests. She doesn’t necessarily care if they’re effective or annoying to millions of people because she has a paycheck coming in and, hey, this is business.
  • That SEO convinced a client to permanently redirect a temporarily redirected domain, and gained more than 100,000 authoritative links in the process, which allowed them to jump from page two to one, where they have ranked consistently in the top 5 on a very competitive brand-agnostic keyword for the last two years without adding the keyword to the title tag or the body copy, which conflicted with their style guidelines.

Two Sides Of EDU Links

  • This SEO goes out and celebrates at the end of the day because she has identified and secured links from three authoritative EDU domains in the course of the day.
  • That SEO has a client who works for a university who changed domains ten years ago and let the domain expire instead of redirecting it and is not having success talking to Educause about subverting their policy about not re-acquiring the expired domain in order to let the client reclaim these thousands of old links that are rightfully theirs and could be helping them compete for competitive keywords because it is a rule that they’ve made, and other university clients who find out what SEO is will want to do the same thing.

That SEO looked in vain in Google’s webmaster help center for answers on how to handle link recovery issues such as this, and found nothing. When he reached out to his company’s Google rep, she referred him to the webmaster forum, but he couldn’t post a question due to confidentiality issues.

Two Sides Of Goals and Metrics

  • This SEO can’t sleep because he’s anxious about whether his PR8 links that he bought will bring his toolbar PageRank score to 5/10 and allow him to report the good news to his client.
  • That SEO sleeps well knowing that she is meeting her goal of natural search impressions, clicks and conversions that she forecasted for the client at the beginning of the project, and implementation of recommendations is on track to help her reach her goals in the end.

Two Sides Of Allegiance

  • This SEO thinks Google is the enemy and writes in her blog and in social media outlets regularly about how hypocritical the search engines are.
  • That SEO thinks of herself as an extension of the search engine’s search quality team, and regularly reports competitors who violate the webmaster guidelines as part of the SEO process. That SEO uses search engines in life as much as anyone, and gets upset when the search results aren’t relevant. That SEO thinks having a rigorously controlled Google Webmaster certification program similar to the AdWords and Analytics programs would be a great trust signal that could help Google fix their current spam problem.

Two Sides Of Implementation

  • This SEO makes changes to his website all day and night without anyone knowing or caring what is done.
  • That SEO just got off a four hour conference call with Legal in order to explain how search engines work and why it’s going to be beneficial to the business to make the title tags more descriptive. Changes to the website will not happen for months.

Two Sides Of Process

  • This SEO finally goes to bed at 3am because he’s been scrolling through tweets all day. He didn’t actually make any changes to the website that he’s optimizing, and probably spent too much time tweeting back and forth with @WestchesterSEOCompany1234 about Matt Cutts’s cats, but tomorrow is another day.
  • That SEO has to keep a detailed project plan of what’s being done when so that all stakeholders in the SEO project will know what’s expected of them when, and SEO requirements will not delay the launch date of the web site or require additional resources that weren’t in the budget

Two Sides Of Discourse

  • This SEO guru focuses on bare bones implementation in the service of getting the client to the top of the search results with available resources for however long the tactics work.
  • That SEO guru doesn’t have a lot of time to write articles or speak, as she spends most of her day realizing her natural search goals and planning for the future, but when she does contribute to the industry it’s less on reverse engineering algorithms and more on creative ways to help her clients get more and better traffic by focusing on synergies between what SEOs and search engines need

Which Side Are You On?

Ask yourself: what kind of SEO are you, and what kind of SEO do you want to be? In my experience, it’s very easy to be “this SEO” as the majority of SEO gurus out there are trying to sell SEO services to small businesses with authority issues that don’t have resources to compete fairly or find creative ways to help clients become more visible in natural search results.

But when I’m hiring an SEO to help our company help clients take their natural search visibility to the next level, I’m weeding out “this SEO” in the interview process and looking for “that SEO” with great communication skills who focuses on business value of natural search traffic, quality of execution and attention to detail, and has a knack for creative problem solving.

I’m not suggesting that there are only two types of SEOs. I think there’s a more nuanced explanation that’s closer to the truth. However, I’m simplifying the issue to prove a point.

In these examples, “this SEO” is the one that gets covered often in this industry because the barrier to entry is lower, but it’s also the example that has very little to do with my work as an SEO and the work of others like me.

Fortunately, publications like Search Engine Land start to fill the gap with columns like Industrial Strength, and SMX caters to “that SEO” by focusing certain sessions on using natural search to drive business value.

There are also great books that cater to this audience like Vanessa Fox’s Marketing in the Age of Google and Audience, Relevance and Search: Targeting Web Audiences with Relevant Content. Unfortunately. these things are the exception to the rule, and the signal to noise ratio for someone in the SEO industry who wants to be the kind of SEO that I and others like me aspire to be is low.

If you are an SEO or you’re writing about SEO, please do your part to strengthen the signal by not assuming all SEOs are interested in what you consider to be SEO, and keep in mind that there are people out there who make a living as SEOs whose lives don’t resemble the lives of other SEOs in the slightest.

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