Saturday, September 15, 2007

Google customer support for webmasters is TERRIBLE

Reading a thread over at DigitalPoint started by Trichnosis reminded me of how pathetic Google's customer support is for webmasters. I've long since given up trying to get answers out of Google. Here are some of the problems as I see them:

  1. If one attempts to email Google with questions, there's either no response or a canned reply with a link to the Google Guidelines page, which is only marginally useful, and NEVER answers the question asked in the first place.
  2. The Google group for webmasters is a joke. Anything even remotely controversial (like the thread I linked to above) is deleted, even if the question is legitimate. Asking for Google to clean up it's search results and index is a good question, and the deletion of a legitimate question because of the controversial nature of it is just bad business.
  3. I've never used the phone support, but I can't imagine a customer service phone monkey knows the answer to the hijacked proxy sites problem (if the monkey even knows what hijacked means or what a proxy site is).
  4. There is no centralized place to get information about Google's requirements for webmasters or a centralized place to contact Google with serious questions.
  5. If a webmaster has done something to anger the Google Gods, a notification is never sent out, a reason is never given, and there is no place to go to find the REAL reason for the penalty.
  6. Matt Cutts, aka "The Google Mouth" provides bits and pieces of information that are extremely useful, but rarely answers questions (probably because of the sheer volume of questions posted on his blog). Google has literally billions of dollars - they can afford to hire a couple more smart guys like Cutts to help the webmaster community get answers to it's questions.
Webmasters are the lifeblood of the internet (at least from a backend productivity POV), whether Google likes it or not. Better communication between Google and the webmasters that promote their own sites is a must for Google - they don't want a revolt from the very folks who are integral parts of the Google money machine.

What's funny is that this post from Matt Cutts himself promised that Google was working on better communication, and was testing a notification system that would give site-owners and webmasters a tangible warning when their site was breaking the rules. I haven't heard a thing about this since, and the post was made in September of 2005.

Google, are you listening?

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Will site-wide links be targeted in the "kill the paid links" campaign

I've been thinking about how Google will be identifying paid links, which Matt Cutts (the Google Mouth) has reminded us all will be devalued. There are a couple easy ways:

  • Links from websites like Bid Directories where it's obvious that each link is bought and paid for
  • Links without any real content surrounding it (although this one will be trickier to filter since lots of websites have "quicklink" areas in the sidebars/footers that are navigation guides)
  • Links in close proximity to words like "sponsored links", "advertisers", etc.
  • Links that show up in high numbers on sites with little relevancy. This one is easy for Google to devalue since they want highly relevant links anyway
But what about sitewide links? Will Google use this as a means to identify paid links? Many times, paid links are pushed sitewide for the extra PR juice.

Just something I was thinking about...

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Got hit with a large drop in the SERPs this weekend

My web design and development site has slowly been crawling up the SERPs for the keyword "web design" for the last six months. I've been slowly developing my SEO attack and refining it, while at the same time trying not to over-do. Last Monday (September 3rd), I broke the top 35 and had hit #29 by Thursday. (subject for another day: SEO "professionals" who claim that SERPs don't change on a daily basis).

I took a long weekend, and when I checked my rankings on Monday night (the 10th), I had dropped to #82. Tuesday the 11th I was #88 and today (Wednesday the 12th) I'm at #85. I seem to have been hit with some sort of nasty -50 penalty, even though I've played it pretty straight and jumped through all the Goops (Google hoops).

I'm patiently waiting it out - I have 5 or 6 other great keywords that I rank highly for that haven't dropped in the SERPs so the penalty only seems to be applied to the one keyword: web design. Maybe too many backlinks too quickly?

Or, was there an algo update this weekend that changed the rankings of certain keywords? The keywords I rank highly for have all been strong SERPs for a long period of time. Perhaps an algo change that has something to do with length of backlinks?

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Relevant results from search engines: Part 1

This is the first part in a serious of blog posts I'm going to be making regarding the relevancy of search results. I'll be comparing the results from the 3 major search engines (Google, Yahoo, and MSN). Here's how it will work:

  • I will choose a keyword at random
  • I'll do a search on each of the search engines using the exact same keyword
  • Only the top 20 results (the first 2 pages) will be counted. This is because a majority of users don't go beyond page 2
  • I will count each result returned that matches my search as a point. So a perfect score is 20, which should be nearly impossible.
  • Results I will not count as relevant:
    • Directories
    • Wikipedia or Yahoo Answers links
    • Manufacturers' links (if applicable)
    • Links that are not relevant to my search, even if they match the keyword (for example, if I'm searching for a cat, as in a feline, then I wouldn't count results for a Caterpillar bulldozer)
    • Any result that doesn't match what I had in mind for the keyword
The first keyword I decided on was "tool chest". Pretending to be a user in search of a tool chest for sale, I entered the keyword into all three search engines. I am only interested in sites that have tool chests for sale. Here are the results:
  1. Google - 7 relevant results
  2. Yahoo - 15 relevant results
  3. MSN - 6 relevant results
Yahoo wins round 1 with a more than 2:1 margin of victory over both Google and MSN. While this may be an unscientific survey, Yahoo has been getting a lot better at returning relevant results.

We'll see in Part 2 (coming up next week) how the search engines fare when I use a more tricky keyword.

Stay tuned...

Monday, September 10, 2007

Very funny: Google gets sued

I do think that Google has some monopolistic control over a certain online market for advertising, but this story is completely ridiculous:

Google's "Top Spot" For Sale

Reading through this, I wonder how idiotic the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission (ACCC) has to be.

  1. The ads are clearly marked as "Sponsored Links" - if the ACCC doesn't read carefully before clicking, is that Google's problem?
  2. The ads have a different background color, making them stand out as different. Even newbie browsers have learned that these are paid links. Maybe the ACCC is being run by a bunch of old farts who consider the IBM Selectric as "cutting-edge" technology.
  3. Why is Google expected to act as a non-profit? Maybe the ACCC should sue NBC next because it gives priority to companies who pay for advertising on it's network. Or maybe USA Today for giving the largest ads to the clients who pay the most.
Have these nincompoops at the ACCC even read the news over the last 5 or 6 years? Is Google's business model (as described in the media millions of times) not apparent to them? Are they seriously going to sue an advertising company for selling ads?

Stupid, stupid, stupid!

I'm back after a long weekend and I got screwed by some script-kiddy

I managed to take a few days off for the weekend, but I'm back and thought I'd write a few notes about what NOT to do as a network administrator.

Since I was going to be home for the weekend, I wanted to be able to login and check my email, do some work if I had to, and in general just be able to have access to my work computer.

Thursday night, I tried to setup my router to forward the Terminal Service port to my server so I could login remotely. As hard as I tried, I couldn't get a remote connection to work. So, being a lazy turd, I setup an open DMZ between my crappy DSL modem and my server (some of you know where this is going). To make matters worse, I'd just installed an unpatched version of SQL Server 2000 to work on an old application for a client. I'd also forgotten to install any SQL Server service packs.

The combination of an open DMZ to my server and an unprotected SQL Server install proved disastrous. When I got to the office this morning (a Monday, no less!), my entire network and internet interfaces were being POUNDED with traffic. It took a hacker less than 3 days to compromise my server, install MySQL on it, and start running all sorts of crap through my IP Address.

Needless to say, I had a huge pile of nasty emails from network administrators and a stern note from my ISP when I got to work. It took half the day to get my network cleaned up and secured.

The lesson?