SEO Monthly Update – February 2011
Welcome to our monthly search engine optimisation (SEO) update for February 2011. Apologies for the delay, but there have been some significant changes in the month of February and early March and we have been in the process of assessing the impact of these changes.
Also, please note that this month we released our SEO Factors and Trends Report for 2011. This covers the key SEO factors that changed in the search engine marketplace in 2010 and the key potential SEO trends in 2011. The objective of this report is to help you identify the key factors that could affect your SEO strategy, and ultimately your search engine rankings and includes the recommended actions to take to align your SEO strategy with the factors and trends identified.
1. SEO News
a) Google penalises J.C. Penny for buying links
The New York Times published an article on JC Penny, a large online shopping site, who had been buying links and who thus ranked highly for numerous competitive keywords (e.g. dresses). The article revealed that a large number of unrelated web sites were linking to J.C. Penny with descriptive anchor text.
Google applied a manual penalty to the JC Penny website, in addition to the automated filters applied as part of their algorithm. As a result, many of J.C. Penny’s search ranking results in Google dropped significantly. This was obviously highly embarrassing for JC Penney to be involved in what is considered a “deceptive practice” from Google’s perspective and they claimed no knowledge and promptly fired their SEO Company. The journey to recovering these rankings will be long.
SearchEngineLand has a more in-depth article on this topic. Other recent websites that appear to have been penalised for usual linking strategies include Overstock.com and Forbes. The bruceclay.com blog has a great summary on the above titled Paid Links: Just sign on the dotted line and the bruceclay.com.au blog covers more details in post, Buying Links and Search.
Implications: The process of buying links for the sole purpose of improving PageRank is recognised as a black hat SEO technique. According to Matt Cutts “The best links are not paid, or exchanged after out-of-the-blue emails – the best links are earned and given by choice,” and “Google does consider buying links for Page Rank purposes to be outside our quality guidelines”. Thus, do not buy links and if you currently have bought links pointing to your site, consider getting these removed.
b) Google’s “Farmer/Panda” algorithm update
Google released a new update to their algorithm targeting poor quality or thin websites and stated that this change would impact almost 12% of search queries. Google stated, “This update is designed to reduce rankings for low-quality sites—sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful. At the same time, it will provide better rankings for high-quality sites—sites with original content and information such as research, in-depth reports, thoughtful analysis and so on”. This update became active in the US index first, but more countries are about to follow.
This was in addition to Google’s “Scraper” algorithm update that went live in late January and targets “scraper” sites. Google stated “This was a pretty targeted launch: slightly over 2% of queries change in some way, but less than half a percent of search results change enough that someone might really notice. The net effect is that searchers are more likely to see the sites that wrote the original content rather than a site that scraped or copied the original site’s content.” Scraper sites are generally defined as those sites that pull content from other sources, some legally and some illegally.
Implications: There should not be major implications for sites that provide original good quality content and are recognised as authority and expert sites. The big question that remains to be answered is how does Google determine what is quality content via its algorithm. We believe that this may include a combination of many factors including how you compare to ranking competitors, amount of content, supporting keywords, surrounding content, writing styles, level of expertness, relevant quality links, overall site quality, corroborating social media signals and user experience including advert-to-content ratio as an example. For more information, see the Back to Basics: Creating Quality Content for the Web post from the bruceclay.com blog. We will expand on this in upcoming monthly updates.
From Google’s focus on paid links and quality content, along with the pressure that Google is receiving in the press and blogosphere about the poor quality of their search results, indicate that Google is finally doing something about this. This may take a while longer to impact the google.com.au rankings.
c) Search engines add more social information into search results
Bing announced that Facebook Likes would be integrated into search results. While Facebook Likes were initially visible at the bottom of Bing search results pages, in February these started being integrated into its search results pages. This means that if a search result is liked by your Facebook friends, then these Likes would be annotated to the search results as shown in the image below. It appears that for now these signals are not impacting the rankings of the search results but surely this is not far away. This has currently only been rolled out in use in the US for now.
Google announced that they are starting to include information from people that matter to you in the main search results, based on relevance. This means that in some cases new or shared content from colleagues will be annotated to search results. Currently this does not include information from Facebook. It appears that Google may be changing the rankings based on these social search elements.
Implications: Click though rates may increase for results that include social information. Optimise your website for social media. Engage with you social media audience. Build your social media community.
d) Google accusation on Bing copying search results
Google accused Bing of copying Google’s search results. Bing in response stated that they didn’t copy results from any of their competitors, however they look at anonymous click stream data as one of more than a thousand inputs into their ranking algorithm. Matt Cutts in his blog post mentioned that while he respected all Bing’s engineers and evangelists, he still believed Bing was copying Google’s results and showed examples of identical search results coming from misspelled search queries.
Bing is not just monitoring what happens at Google. It monitors what people do as they travel across the entire web. The “clickstream” might be more accurately described as the “surfstream.” Bing is able to see what people are browsing — at least what people who are using the Bing Toolbar, if they have that installed in their browser, or if they are using Internet Explorer with the Suggested Sites feature switched on.
Implications: There are no specific SEO implications related to this point, but it will be interesting to see how the competition between Google and Bing plays out. From our perspective, another strong search engine in Australia would be of great benefit to users.
Key blog posts in February:
- SEO Factors and Trends: What happened in 2010 and what to expect in 2011
- Mobile SEO – How can Search Results and Conversions differ on mobile
- Directory Link Building
- Buying Links and Search
- Search Quality on the Rise
- The Age of Social Media: Can Facebook Set Us Free?
- Implementing In-House SEO: What You Need to Succeed
Key newsletter articles in February:
- The Economies of Social Media
- The Right SEO Tools for the Job
- Back to Basics: Creating Quality Content for the Web
4. Bruce Clay Training Courses
Upcoming training dates are:
The three day SEO training course is targeted at those people who actively practice SEO and are involved in determining, developing and implementing SEO strategies. This course is delivered by Bruce Clay, the founder and CEO of Bruce Clay, Inc. – he flies out from the US once a year to deliver this course. The one day SEO training course is targeted at those people that need to manage an SEO project, team or vendor or are involved in a project that requires an understanding of SEO and how to identify potential SEO issues.
For more information on training, visit our SEO training page.