Sophisticated website design and Internet marketing - eVision, Connecticut

Online Marketing Newsletter - December 2003

In this issue

About 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.

If 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.)

Occasionally 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).

The 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 It's really amazing how the news develops over time, Forums page (link no longer active)

Often, 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.

There 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.

The 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.

In 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).

Most 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.

Google's 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,

Reciprocal Links
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:

Be 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 bonus.

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 Stuffing
Don't ‘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.

So 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 Guidelines).

Some 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
The 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).

Most 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 purchases.

Google 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.

Google 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'

More to come.


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New Federal Spam Law

We've posted an overview page of the new federal anti-spam legislation going into effect Jan 1, 2004.

Main Points of the CAN-SPAM law

  • Outlaws the use of false or misleading headers
  • Outlaws the use of deceptive subject lines
  • Requires a clear and conspicuous opt-out mechanism within every commercial email
  • Requires the inclusion of a valid physical postal address within every commercial email

Read the complete article (link no longer active)

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George Aspland
Branford, CT


"Traffic to our web site has grown by over 500% in the six months since eVision began its online marketing!" Paul DelGrego, President
DEL Imaging Systems


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