Saturday, August 18, 2007

A problem with search results

I love Google's search engine. As I've said before though, it's a love/hate relationship. One of my number 1 complaints is that the search results return too much garbage. For example:

  • Directories - these sites, with their thousands of outbound links, are becoming nothing more than link farms (with several differences that I won't go into here). I'll admit that I submit many of the sites I manage to a lot of directories. Other than the backlinks I get from the directories, I find them useless. There's no reason for a directory to show up in the search results.
  • Wikipedia - honestly, I don't trust much of Wikipedia any more. At one time I found it to be a pretty good source of information on nearly any topic I needed to research. But, they have too many questionable sources, and downright false information. Wikipedia is a great idea in concept, but it's too large to manage and is filled with crap on a lot of the pages. Wikipedia results shouldn't be shown on the first page of search results. In fact, they shouldn't be indexed at all, especially since they've changed their outbound links to NOFOLLOW's. They get huge amounts of link juice, but don't return it back to the pool of internet resources, essentially "trapping" it in their own system. If I want to buy a pinball machine, the search results shouldn't have a Wikipedia listing near the top that talks about the history of pinball machines. If I want to search Wikipedia, I'll go to the site myself and perform the search there.
  • Amazon/Ebay - Again, if I want to search for books or items, I'll go directly to those sites to find the items.
Maybe not everyone agrees with me, but when I have to go 2 or 3 pages deep to find a relevant sites, then there are too many irrelevant search results being returned.

Rumors about Google doing away with Pagerank

Reading through the blogosphere this week has given me a new appreciation for the viral nature of the internet. I'm not sure how the rumor got started, but some bloggers are printing as truth the story that Google will be removing Pagerank. This is ridiculous simply because PR is such an important part of the algorithm. I can't back it up, but I don't think Pagerank as a variable will be going anywhere anytime soon.

I suspect that the hysteria is due to the fact that so many webmasters rely on Pagerank waaaaaay too much as a benchmark for their website's "power". While Pagerank is an important number, there are others that are more important. A website with a Pagerank of 7 that doesn't get any traffic because it's SERPs are so bad is a website with wasted Pagerank.

I would be sad to see the toolbar PR go by the wayside. I use it in my regular browsing as a way to judge a site's authority. I have a feeling that we'll still be able to get our Pagerank values from the various datacenters using the Google API, and that tools like DigPageRank will proliferate to help webmasters keep tabs on PR values.

The # of blog posts across the internet on this topic is mind-boggling, especially when there's very little proof.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Google to ban websites for reciprocal linking

Reciprocal linking is a practice that's been around since the web was in its infancy. In the earlier, wilder years, many people built websites and linked to their friends, and their friends reciprocated. The revolutionary idea of a "world wide web" as a network of linked sites was a primary reason for the huge success of the internet.

Now, it seems that Google is threatening to ban sites that use reciprocal linking techniques. From the Google Webmaster Help Center on techniques that are a violation of their guidelines:

"Link exchange and reciprocal links schemes ("Link to me and I'll link to you.")"

This is a direct contradiction to basic business practices where businesses often cross market their products, even when not in similar industries. For example, I operate a website that is a real estate guide for my local area. Users can find real estate agents, apply for a loan, get a contractor, find a handyman, etc. It also has informative articles, discussions on the current state of the real estate market, and links to regional news stories regarding real estate in the area. I have many links to various websites for the companies represented in the guide. Many of those websites also link back to me as a "proud partner of the real estate guide". Essentially, I have a website filled with reciprocal links.

Since the goal of the real estate guide is to be a "one-stop shop" for real estate services, linking to websites representing those relevant services is a must. What, do I tell users that "Company A is a real estate agent, but if you want to visit their website, go do a search for them on Google and find the site yourself"? The links back to my site are completely natural - I didn't solicit those websites for backlinks. The burning question is: will I be banned from the Google index for having a large number of reciprocal links? I shouldn't be penalized, but according to Google's guidelines, I've broken the rules.

When it comes down to it, will Google be banning itself for reciprocal linking? After all, they link to every website on the web, and many websites link to them.

Check out this blog for an interesting video and some great commentary.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

A welcome and a plea for leniency from the Google gods

As a webmaster, I have a love hate relationship with Google. On the one hand, I get a lot of traffic to my websites from Google, and that helps me make money. On the other, darker hand, I spend hundreds of hours every year jumping through Google's hoops (Goops) to build and optimize websites that meet an ever-changing miasma of Google guidelines. I stick to a White-Hat-Only philosophy when optimizing, which makes my job even more difficult. I'm a "stick to the rules" kind of guy but my problem, and the reason for this blog, is that the rules are murky and seem to change on a continual basis.

I want to start by highlighting some of the positive things I see from Google. I'll be plenty critical in future posts, and I don't want to anger the Google Gods before I even get started.

  1. Pagerank - From a webmaster's point of view, pagerank is a wonderful tool. Seeing an increase in pagerank after months of hard work is a very satisfying feeling and is a great way to provide a preliminary and ongoing analysis of the website's strength. Pagerank isn't the be-all-end-all in my Search Engine Optimization process (the actual search results being far more important), but is a fairly consistent judge of the progression up the internet food chain. Read a more comprehensive explanation about pagerank from the guys at

    More importantly to me, pagerank is an invaluable tool when deciding how important or powerful a website is when I'm visiting. A website with a pagerank of 8 has more authority in my mind that one with a pagerank of zero or 1. I trust Google when it gives a site that much credence, and I value those authority sites for their content. Many of my favorite websites, message boards, and blogs have healthy pagerank, and I don't consider it a coincident.

  2. Search Results - Google provides the best and most relevant search results. I use Yahoo occasionally, but it comes in a very distant second place to Google when it comes to delivering relevant search results. My one complaint here is that too many search terms have Wikipedia or Directory entries in the top 2 or 3 spots. If I want to search Wikipedia, or look for a website on a Directory, I'll go to those specific sites myself. When searching for information on chess, I don't want a Wikipedia entry describing the history of the game. I want serious, chess-oriented sites that can provide how-to guides, tips, or even online game play.

  3. Webmaster Tools - Google's webmaster tools are second to none. There is not a more comprehensive set of tools available to track the websites I manage and to find errors in my sites that I wouldn't have otherwise been able to see, let alone resolve. There are, however, some better tools for certain SEO tasks, and I'll probably go over those in the future, with a suggestion to Google to implement some of these tools themselves to push their own webmaster tools from a utilitarian devise to a true killer app.
I don't aim to be a true watchdog, but my goal is to provide my opinions on Google's actions, and to challenge them when they do things that hurt the webmaster community at large. Many of my posts will be negative, but my aim is to provide constructive criticism rather than using this as a forum to complain about everything Google. I hope to turn this into a blog that Google can "spy" on for useful advice from the little guy, and to see the repercussions of some of their actions.

I'm hoping for a little leniency from the Google Gods when it comes to my rants. Take it or leave it, these are my thoughts, and I hope that they aren't taken lightly. I'm an educated and successful businessman that can hopefully provide some perspective from the position of the "little guy".

If you have a problem with, need clarification on, or have a question about this post, visit my web design site at to contact me.