Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Google +1 Button - long overdue

Google announced the Google + 1 Button on their blog, today, which I think will likely have a positive impact on SEO.

Users of the first Google Toolbar will possibly remember the like and dislike voting buttons on it. They were available beside the PageRank Meter but you had to enable them manually. (I don't have a screenshot). I used to like them but they were quickly disabled as they were too open to abuse. But Google has returned, Facebook-esque, with the Google +1 Button. I think this is brilliant and much overdue.

A lot will be made of it being a Facebook copy-cat but that's overrated. Much of Facebook isn't original and Google has tried this in the past. It's also not social networking - Google is an aggregator of data and their star rating system, like/dislike voting buttons and PageRank systems are relative dinosaurs compared to Facebook and the like button.

Here's why I think its so important and where it will have some positive effects for SEO.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder
Users liking sites brings back appreciation for design, UI and UX. If design is really bad and the User Experience is awful, this will could have a negative effect on a website. Of course, design is impossible for search engines to take into account and its pretty hard for humans given its subjective nature.

This to me is great news for people who value strong design and user experiences and is a big shot in the arm for web designers. But it's how the design affects you, not how you feel about the design (note for site owners) - and so "graphics-free" sites like Craigslist will probably garner many likes.

Up until now, design and UIX was taken into account by indirectly valuing the CTR and link back stats that Google collects.

Can the spam
A massive benefit could be reduced spam counts. Rubbish and empty blogs, posts, press releases, content farms and other spam mass generated by ruthless and shameful blackhat-SEO companies and their careless clients should be hit again by giving a direct vote to users

Bringing Balance to the Force
By giving users a vote on pages - it essentially starts to move to balance out the guesswork by the algorithm. For example, if users keep picking the first few sites that rank but they get less likes than other sites - it makes sense for Google to shake up the mix a bit.

Its unlikely that this will be a heavy weight factor at the start. Because internet representation is still anonymous (and Privacy Campaigners keen to see it that way), the system is open to some abuse, so some form of balance of power to limit it.

Ennis Open Coffee gets started

Ennis Open Coffee is now on thanks to @enewmedia.

It’s an open forum, where you might feel obliged to buy a coffee, but otherwise you are free to drop in between the hours of 11AM-1PM each 1st Friday @ The TempleGate Hotel, Ennis, County Clare.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Internet : Going Global and other myths

It's 2011. We're embracing the 3rd decade of public internet access. Since 1991, home use of the internet has been mushrooming. Google has been at the forefront of the use of the internet. If you want to find something on the internet, you use Google. Ok, maybe you use Bing or Yahoo, but same thing really.

Why? Search engines have the whole internet read and indexed, stored and filed, cross referenced. Google has been going since 1994 and in 2001/2 became the biggest search engine in the world (by use and by documents indexed - the then used benchmark). You can read more about the history of Google on my slideshare.

With all of these documents, Google has to look at different ways to present information. It's slowing moving towards the concept/idea of a Symantic Web but allowing cross-referencing. Google is learning to return results on the way you use results. It's using Places (Geo-Targeting) and Organic Ranking. It displays results by Blogs, Discussions, Real-time (twitter), Video (including Youtube) and Images. It uses User Ratings and reviews, average prices and other data (Google Snippets).

It's a vastly different animal from 10 years ago. So why do pre-Google myths still surround us? Some of them are made up and some of them are just scary. Many of them are issued like edicts by self-professed experts. But they're all debunkable - Google goes to comprehensive lengths to distribute accurate information but we've too many soap-box experts willing to shout out rather than sit back and listen.

This is a quick list of my favourite, pet-peeve Internet Myths. I hear them daily. I read about them on Fora (plural for Forums), blogs and in advice given to clients. Sit back - some of them seem like complete fact - but these are all bona fida Internet Urban Legends. If you hear any SEO Guru espousing the virtues of these - run, run away fast!

1. Keywords and Keywords density: Why do 1990's SEO "tips" still survive into 2011? Because its easy to understand. It's based, loosely, on a library-style indexing system. Really - Google is going to rank you for "Hotels Dublin" because you have it 101 times on your home page and you competitor fell short at 100? Forget it - Myth Busted: Google doesn't respect a Keywords Meta-tag!

Snake oil Hint: Keywords are just text.

2. You get penalised for duplicate content: I've been lectured on this at length. I keep 4 domains with exact, duplicate content that are all at least 5 years old and none of them are penalised. I don't need to - Google has a video on it. Duplicate content, that you own, is not necessarily penalised. Cloned, syndicated, plaguarised and scraped content being different. Rolled up content is not penalised content. This is actually quite a complex area but I'll keep it simple - its how I can tell the cowboys from the real researchers!

Snake Oil Hint: Be careful but be weary when someone pontificates on this one!

3. .COM is global: This is the worst and most damaging myth of all. A .COM, for most parts is a TLD but it's not necessarily Global. If you're a search user in Ireland or France, you'll get search results based on your location. A .COM hosted in France with largely French Traffic will most likely be seen as a French site - interchangeable thus with a .FR - the ccTLD for France.

Why is this myth the worst? We speak to companies and web designers every day who think selecting will make them ubiquitously available. The issue is Geo Targeting. Google uses your Location (e.g. Ireland) to show websites that match your search and location best.

Here's an example:

This a search for "Pensions" from Google IE and Google UK. So whats so different? In both cases, the search is "Pages from the Web", not just pages from Ireland or the UK. In both cases the results are perfectly tailored to my Geo-Location. In fact, because I have a Dublin IP address, Google is showing me a map of Dublin and showing listings and cross referencing them with their listed places. In the UK search, my Dublin address doesn't match a UK Region, and therefore no map is shown.

So what does this mean? Well, in the UK results, most of the UK sites (AdWords aside) are targeting the UK. In Google Webmasters, you can only associate 1 country with a domain. In the case of a ccTLD - you are stuck with the countries that keyword is associated with (for example .IE is for Ireland only and .CO.UK for the UK only). Any of the TLD's (COM, NET, ORG, INFO, BIZ,....) can be set to target any country.

Even if you don't set it, in the case of most new TLD's , Google will auto-select your Geo-Location for you based on hints provided by where you're hosted, words used in your content, address hints, where you get links from, searches you're associated with.

In some cases (but rarely) - Google will select 2 locations - this is common for companies with both Irish and UK companies. But's it very hard to create.

Why does this myth persist? Well, big sites like often outrank local sites - but that's because of their enormous authority. When you select "Pages from [my country]" they often disappear.

So whats the big deal? Well, many web designers are still building websites that can only run on one domain. Quite often it's a .IE or if their client wants to be international, on a .COM - even though the site will probably still only be seen as a .IE (and there's little they can do about it). When queried, most retort that Google "Punishes" duplicate content or that international domains are hard to purchase. And this is holding us back. As long as we continue to believe, perpetuate and listen to myths, we'll only struggle to use the Internet as a successful exporting vehicle.

Hint: German and English content published on two domains does not qualify as "Duplicate Content"

It doesn't matter what the myth or excuse is - there's no reason for them to exist anymore, and web designers will have to rise to the challenge of developing localised sites - that's how people work and that's how Google works. Time to work with it, not against it!