- December 2003
Google's latest update
In case you haven't heard, a major update is
taking place at Google that is causing many
web pages to drop out of top positions for some
search terms. It started about 4 weeks ago.
your web pages have been affected - Don't panic!
I've seen this many times over the years (Admittedly
not as drastic as this one!). In the past Google
would recrawl the web every month or so. It
was called the Google Dance (We believe Google
has changed to a continuous, rolling update
now so more Google Dances.)
there would be major changes in the rankings
of web pages (position in the results of a search)
after an update. Almost immediately the Search
Marketing forums would light up with speculation
and outright conspiracy theories about what
was going on. These changes in the ranking usually
occur as Google implements a modification to
its ranking algorithm (the programming used
to determine how to rank the web pages found
in a search).
latest update has been nicknamed Florida (Google
updates are usually named, just like hurricanes!)
To get an idea of how the news breaks about
these updates I've posted a page with some entries
from two search engine marketing forums. It's
really amazing how the news develops over time,
Forums page (link
no longer active)
after a Google update had run its course, there
is a consensus about what happened and various
recommendations on what, if anything, should
be done to improve web page positions.
has been lots of speculation on what exactly
is happening with this current update. There's
evidence to support some claims and evidence
to reject almost all of them too. To complicate
matters, people are reporting that some of their
web pages that took a hit are coming back into
the results without any changes having been
made to them. So Google is almost certainly
tweaking the algorithm still.
net is this: I agree with what most people are
saying; we don't want to make any knee-jerk
reactions. Hopefully, we'll have better, more
definitive answers over the coming weeks.
the meantime I would like to point out a couple
of tactics could be getting sites in trouble.
Most of the speculation on what has occurred
has centered around two broad theories. One
theory is that Google has changed its algorithm
to try to increase its ad revenue (I've seen
this accusation a few times in the past).
other speculation is based on the theory that
Google is trying to reduce the affect of search
engine optimization by looking for obvious signs
that optimization tactics have been employed.
The assumption is that Google has decided that
search engine optimization tactics have degraded
the relevancy of its results and now it is taking
steps to correct this.
position has always been that anything that
is done primarily to influence a web page's
ranking should not be done. You can get a good
idea of what Google believes is proper and improper
by reading Google's own Webmasters Guidelines,
One of the theories about this latest
update is that a penalty is being applied for
participating in any of the reciprocal linking
schemes available (reciprocal linking is exchanging
links with another site). Whether or not this
is true I think it's worth restating the advice
we have always given about reciprocal links:
very careful with reciprocal links for a number
of reasons -
First you risk loosing your visitors by sending
them off to another site.
You risk sending them to a site where they
may learn about your competition.
You risk being penalized by search engines
if you participate in any of the reciprocal
link ‘farms' and other schemes that
are out there.
Every link to or from you site must be evaluated…
We suggest only looking for links to your
site on ‘quality', industry, related
sites that can bring targeted traffic to your
site, links on sites such as industry directories
and 'resource/Links' pages on industry news
and association web sites. Consider the ranking
boost you may get from these links an added
We also suggest only putting links to other
sites (outgoing links) if those sites provide
useful information to your site visitors.
You should also think twice about adding a
link to another site if it includes a large
number of references, ads, and other links
to your competitors.
If you do include links to other sites try
to include them within the pages of text on
your normal pages instead of, or in addition
to, a ‘Links' page.
‘keyword stuff''. Keyword stuffing is
repeating keyword phrases multiple times in
page elements such as HTML Titles, Image Alt
tags, the text on the page, etc. If Google is
indeed looking for signs of search engine optimization
overuse of keywords is a sure sign.
make sure not to go overboard with your keywords
in any of these elements. You should be able
to include a keyword one or twice with a tag,
such as an HTML Title or Alt tag within a grammatically
correct phrase. In other words these tags should
be developed as mini statements to humans, should
not be developed to affect search engine rankings.
Make sure that your TITLE and ALT tags are descriptive
and accurate (that's right out of Google's Webmaster
people believe Google is looking at even one
occurrence of a keyword in an element such as
the HTML title as a sign of optimization. I'll
be very surprised if this turns out to be true
(If it is true we'll all have a major problem
trying to figure out how to handle this since
there are other search engines beside Google).
Some people are going to the extreme of ‘de-optimizing'
their web sites and removing keywords. I think
this is one of those knee-jerk reactions that
we don't want to make. Just make sure you're
not over using keywords.
The latest news
latest thinking is that Google is indeed rolling
out a major change in the way it ranks web pages
in effort to make its results more relevant
and to stay ahead of the expected major competition
from Microsoft as it brings out its own search
engine (we expect this sometime in 2004).
of the theories agree that Google is probably
phasing in a new ranking technology. We can
get some ideas of what this technology might
be by looking at recent Google patents and technology
has patented a few ranking methodologies, one
Local Ranking and another called Hilltop. Google
might be incorporating one or both or these
technologies into its current page ranking algorithm.
I won't go into the details of these technologies
until we have a better idea if indeed one or
both of them are being employed.
may be incorporating the technology it acquired
from its purchase of Applied Semantics, which
uses artificial intelligence to examine language
patterns in an attempt to determine what people
are searching for. Word patterns may then be
examined on web pages in the Google index. It
is believed that this analysis may then be combined
with ‘click-through' data to determine
which pages are ‘most relevant'
Federal Spam Law
posted an overview page of the new federal anti-spam
legislation going into effect Jan 1, 2004.
Main Points of the CAN-SPAM law
the use of false or misleading headers
the use of deceptive subject lines
a clear and conspicuous opt-out mechanism
within every commercial email
the inclusion of a valid physical postal address
within every commercial email
the complete article
(link no longer active)