Friday, October 5, 2007

Google backlink update took place last night

When I logged into my webmaster tools this morning, I was pleasantly surprised to find that my backlinks had been updated. Some of my sites are getting serious upticks in their backlink count, which as we all know is an indication of potential pagerank which leads to higher SERPs (with the proper SEO of course).

Google is becoming far better at updating the backlinks on a regular basis and keeping them fresh. Webmasters monitoring their sites' progress need timely information, and at one time, Google was only providing monthly backlink updates, and much of the information was already dated by the time it actually reached the tool. I still see some links that no longer exist listed in the webmaster tools, but the results are promising. Between this backlink update and the last update, a lot of dead backlinks have been removed, and some of my good backlinks are showing up.

The question still remains though: why are NOFOLLOW links being shown in the webmaster tools?

Monday, October 1, 2007

Gmail compromised - is Google the next Microsoft?

It's being reported across the internet and the blogosphere that the popular GMail service has hit it's first security issue. I read the report here. I enjoyed that report because it had a pretty good description of the vulnerability, how an account may become compromised, and what the fix is.

I've read a lot of comments that Google is the next Microsoft when it comes to security issues. It isn't as if either Google or Microsoft's products are particularly vulnerable, but that they are leaders in their respective industries and garner the most attention from hackers. It's actually pretty amazing that Gmail went this long without a serious security breach, and goes to show how much more difficult an online application is to compromise.

In the long run, the webcentric nature of applications like Gmail will help to keep them more secure than desktop applications (like Microsoft's Outlook for example). Since the applications are stored, operate, and communicate from centralized servers, it's far easier to patch than the hundreds of millions of personal computers which each have to download the patch. Personally, I trust a dozen Google engineers over millions of clueless end-users when faced with a security issue.

There's a lot of hoopla about this, but I can guarantee that not much will come of it.

Matt Cutts mentioned the upcoming Pagerank update

Buried in the comments section of Matt Cutts' blog is a response to a poster about the upcoming PR update:

Scroll down into the comments section and you'll get this:

Matt Cutts Said,
October 1, 2007 @ 10:03 am
Ezhil, I don’t expect a full PageRank update for at least a few more weeks, and possibly longer.

My idea that Google is waiting until closer into the U.S. holiday season to perform the update is probably a pretty good guess.

Does Google give preferential treatment to advertisers?

From day one, Google proudly claimed that they wanted to "level the playing field" allowing the little guys to compete with large companies on the web. This was a tradition, and for a long time Google ranked sites based on their own merit and not on the size of the marketing punch behind the site. The idea was to create a more democratic internet, and Google was applauded for it.

I think that Google has strayed from this major tenet of their mission, and I have at least minimal proof that money has the power to change Google's mind about a website.

I've found 4 sites that took huge hits in the SERPs for their major keywords. I'm posting what the webmasters of these sites have experienced, but I won't be naming their sites or the keywords involved because of the fear of the Google wrath.

Site 1
The first site was completely banned from the index, even though it was an established site with over 5 years of high rankings and a good level of trust from Google.. They used an SEO firm that utilized some black hat techniques and Google caught on quickly. The black hat techniques were fixed, and the website met all of Google's guidelines. They requested re-inclusion, but their site still wasn't indexed after 2 months of waiting. Again they requested re-inclusion, and waited 30 days. Again, they were not indexed. 90 days after the ban, they started an Adwords campaign in an attempt to get traffic back to their site. About two weeks after starting the Adwords campaign, the site was re-indexed and started climbing the SERPs for their main keywords. It's hard to tell if one of the re-inclusion attempts was finally serviced or if the Adwords campaign had something to do with it.

Sites 2 and 3
Two sites were not banned, but had precipitous SERP drops for all their keywords. Both were owned by the same webmaster, and the two sites linked extensively. Both had good track records of white hat techniques, so the SERP drop was completely unexpected. The owner attempted to contact Google, to no avail. The sites were still indexed, they just didn't rank in the top 1000 for any of their keywords. All pages on both sites remained in Google's index, but they couldn't be found without using the site: operator. Both sites also ranked below 1000 on searches for their domain name, a search that should have them at #1. Once the owner put Adsense on one of the sites, it jumped back up to its normal rankings for all the keywords. The other site kept the penalty, until he put Adsense Ads on it. Both sites were able to regain their original rankings after putting Adsense on the sites.

Site 4
For no apparent reason, the fourth site got dropped from the SERPs for all the major keywords. Unlike sites 2 and 3, however, this site had some top 50 SERPs and some that dropped into the 900's. For three months, the site languished in poor SERP positions, and the site dropped from over 1,000 indexed pages to about 50. However, once the owner purchased Google advertising, the site immediately starting ranking again for the keywords. The pages are slowly getting re-indexed, but this was a major blow to a website that received most of its traffic from Google.

My Thoughts
I've actually spoken with many more webmasters who have had the same issue. I used these four examples because the site owner was upfront about what was going on with their site and gave me inside information and let me analyze their sites myself. So it's not a single website that coincidentally had this happen to it.

My understanding was that the entire logical and physical infrastructure for the Adwords/Adsense and search technologies were separate and disparate entities. If they are not, and rankings are being inflated because of advertising dollars is incredibly disturbing. Not only does it kill my opinion of Google as a progressive company, but it lowers my trust in Google's rankings.

I don't think its a coincidence that the rankings changed after becoming a part of Google's money machine, whether through Adwords or Adsense. Those are the two parts of Google that bring in the most money, and to have them compromise the natural, organic search results brings money into the equation. Is Google really "for the little guy" anymore?

My prediction about a major Google algo change didn't happen

You can read the original post and the updated post to see what I'm talking about.

I saw some minor variance in the SERPs, but nothing earth-shattering. The highest variance I saw was for a day this week was 29. I major algo change should have sent that number into the 50's at a minimum.

As I promised to some folks, I'm going to eat a pile of cat turds. My wife make a kick-butt kitty litter cake. If I get pics, I'll post them so everyone can see.