When Google Changes to No Follow

Monday, June 22, 2009

A sunny morning, to start activities on this day I want to write about some changes expected to be coming to Google in terms of the no-follow attribute. These no-follow changes have some pretty significant implications for lots of things, first and Foremost though it seems these changes are specifically geared to mitigate, to some degree, the Effectiveness of PR sculpting.

Now, PR sculpting is a fairly advanced concept a lot of folks may not fully understand. So, I figured I would try to provide some explanation of at least the general ideas involved. That seems like the best way to go about explaining why Google is looking to make some sort of change in their treatment of no-follow. If you understand PageRank sculpting, on other words, you will get why Google might not like it so much.

I expect I will have at least 5 people 'way smarter than me' hop in the comments or rip me in Twitter for leaving out 'this' or 'that' in terms of the subtle nuances of PR sculpting. My response to this would be; for the purposes of this article, the subtleties are immaterial. So simmer down. I would be remiss however if I didn't add a little warning in here for people to thoroughly read up and make sure you understand PR sculpting before you start slapping no-follows all over your site. You really can screw your site up if you do it wrong.

So what the heck is it anyway? I'm so glad you asked. We'll start with the concept of your Page Rank 'power' or 'authority'. This is the overall 'value' of a given page in terms of how much 'authority' that page has to pass along via it's outbound links. You have no doubt heard people talk about 'link juice', that's what link juice is. The more important (in Google's eyes) a page is, the more link juice it possesses.

Now think of your website as a bucket (or maybe an elegant punchbowl or some kind of fine china bowl if a bucket is too base of a mental image for you). Your bucket contains all of your link juice. Now think of your outbound links as tiny holes in your bucket. Your link juice flows through the holes and passes on your page's authority.

Now, the PR sculpting theory holds that the more holes you have in your bucket, the more your link juice is spread around or diluted. This is at least in part supported by the search engine accepted and approved concept of Crawl Efficiency (see the Vanessa Fox video or article for more on that). Search engines aren't going to spend forever crawling and indexing every link on every page, so the concept of crawl efficiency basically means you prioritize the important stuff for them.

How do you do this? Well you stick no-follow attributes on non-important links. PR sculpting theory takes this one step further and says that ALL outbound links count as a hole in your bucket, so you would then want to make more liberal use of no-follow to help direct the flow of the link juice. For example; if you had navigation links at the top of your page, in the side bar and again in your footer, PR sculpting would say you add no-follow attributes to all but one set of them. Less holes = more juice flowing through the holes that are left. Get the idea? Good.

Now, there are some rumors or suggestions that Google may be going to change how they look at no-follow in relation to how the link juice is passed along. So if you had, for example, 10 outbound links on a page and no-followed all but 2 of them, effective PR sculpting would funnel all of your juice through those 2 and not dilute it all over 10. Google, being ... well, Google does not like to have situations where people can 'control' the value of links - especially for the purposes of ranking better in Google.

So much buzzing and grumbling ensued when it was suggested that Google might not look at no-follow in quite the same way moving forward. If you have 10 links and no-follow 8 of them in other words, they were still going to count you as having 10 holes in your bucket instead of sending more love to the 2 regular links you didn't add no-follow to.

By the end of the show, there still hadn't been much at all in the way of an official word from Google on the subject. However, I very strongly suspect we will have one soon. The implications for counting no-follow links 'against' you in terms of authority passing ability raises all sorts of difficulties.

For one, let's say you have a popular article that gets 500 comments. Most everybody that leaves a comment also leaves a link. Generally these links are no-followed. If more links = some sort of diminished or diluted authority of a page, that would seem to suggest your fantastic article that got 500 comments was maybe not as good as an article that only got maybe 5 comments.

Second, the whole no-follow thing was Google's idea to begin with. It's very existence is arguably not much more than a Google helper to assist them in managing the whole link economy they created out of their heavy reliance on links as a ranking factor.

Google hates paid links because paid links have the potential to impact search results and if you can buy links you can essentially raise your result in Google. The problem is, paid links have been around longer than Google.... we used to just call them ads. So, Google decided if you slap a no-follow attribute on a link, it meant you were not trying to pass your page authority on to that link and therefore weren't being paid to elevate said link in their index.

Now, it seems like Google is starting to see people using no-follow to emphasize links via the PR sculpting thing and they want to do something about it. A cynical person might say they sound like they are trying to have their cake and eat it too... but a Google person would just say they are just trying to protect the integrity of their index. Personally, I'm all for Google protecting the integrity of their index... but I think it gets to a point when maybe they need to do something about their index's over-reliance on inbound links as a ranking factor. Maybe then they wouldn't have to sweat this sort of thing quite so much and/or dump the burden of link formatting and management off on the webmasters and the SEOs of the world. Those guys have enough on their plate as it is.


Evaluating your website from an SEO,Indexing, and Crawlability

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

When you are evaluating your website from an SEO/Indexing/Crawlability perspective there are a few things to keep in mind and some important questions you may not be asking yourself.

A traffic problem is not always a ranking problem. Many of us are too quick to assume that a drop in traffic is an indicator of some sort of issue with our search rank.

You may not have a ranking issue at all. You could have a crawling problem, there could be parts of your sites getting crawled but not indexed, you could have some sort of extraction issue, any number of things.

The thing here to keep in mind is that you need to develop some sort of infrastructure to diagnose problems. Start with some ranking report benchmarks. Generally speaking, you want to be able to know about where you stand in the rankings for some of your top queries. Know about where you stand in the SERPs for those queries and that will give you a general idea of any significant ranking movement.

Organize your pages into categories. Analyze your server logs for search engine bot activity on a per category basis. This will help you have a better idea about how well the bots are spidering/indexing your content. You may find that categories 'A' and 'C' are being actively crawled by the search bots, but 'B' is getting very little attention from them.

These various category pages may also have significant variation in terms of their crawl rates. Some of your category sections may be crawled at a rate of 10 pages per day, some at 100 pages per day. Being able to see how many pages the crawlers pick up from the individual categories gives you a good idea about how long it takes the bots to get through your whole site.

Search Engines aren't going to spend all their time crawling all your content. Crawl efficiency is the name of the game... If you have a lot of pages you need to be able to let the crawlers know what pages are the most important for them to crawl around on. If you don't want registration pages, error pages, things like that -all non productive pages. So you would want to keep the engines off of things that are not productive for you so they can spend more time dealing with the 'good stuff'.

Create comprehensive, canonical .xml sitemaps for each of your categories (the categories have to be declared canonical before you can do this). In other words, you can create a sitemap index file that links your multiple sitemaps and submit it to Google Webmaster Central.

This gives you a very granular and accurate assessment of how well Google is crawling the various parts of your site. Better yet, you get access to all the cool little graphs and tools in Webmaster Central sitemap reports. This will allow you to identify not only how much and what areas of your content are being crawled, but also how much of that content is being indexed.

So if you see that Google is crawling everything you have in category 'A' but only indexing 20% of it, you have a solid spot to start looking for reasons why.

Make sure you actually have a problem before you start running around trying to fix a problem. Seems like it should go without saying maybe, but a decrease in your overall indexed pages for example, doesn't necessarily mean you have a problem. Google may have simply de-iindexed some of your ineffective or duplicated pages for example.

If you haven't had a drop off in search traffic, then you probably don't have a significant search problem. Changes are not necessarily problems. Seems like quite a folks in this business have a little trouble with that distinction.

So there you have it. 5 pretty solid tips from one of our favorite former Googlers. I would of course urge you to check out our video to get it right from her - she says it all a lot better than I do.


An Advice For Keyword Research

Thursday, June 4, 2009

One of the most important ingredients in keyword research is understanding the language your target market speaks. While your department, your branding crew, your boss may have created concepts, jargon, slogans, or other insider language tools they’d like the consumer to adopt or internalize, unless the consumer has been in the same meetings and viewed the same PowerPoint presentation they aren’t likely going to be using that language to search.

Search marketing specialist for nFusion, Taylor Pratt addresses what he calls “professional blindness,” which is more of a linguistic barrier between industry insiders and the markets they are trying to reach. Keyword research is a way to break down those barriers so connections can be made via search.

The Changing World Of Keyword Research People who have been adhering to the same old tactics while researching keywords might do well to shake things up a little - or a lot. A search engine marketing expert recently shared her insights and gave some advice on the matter.

I seen some “amazing changes” take place in respect to what’s working. This past year or so, with this economic depression that we’ve had some of the terms that have been very consistent over the years you’ll actually see a very strong downward trend.

Online behavior is changing. People are trying to find ways to stretch their dollars, get more for their money. So one specific tip is to pair core keyword phrases with terms like “discount,” “cheap,” “overstock,” and “inexpensive.

More generally, I likes to just take advantage of what several different keyword tools offer. You can use some for brainstorming, some for gathering trend info, and so on. And it’s best to make sure you’re on the right path by seeing if they offer consistent suggestions.

Two of Maravila's favorite tools are Google Trends and Google Insights for Search.

ref : 1, 2


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