Pose questions to our panel of experts about free "organic" listing issues, plus participate in this session that allows the audience to share tips, tools and techniques. There's no set agenda, so this is an ideal session to discuss any major recent changes with organic listings. Moderator:
* Mike Grehan, Global KDM Officer, Acronym Media
* Jill Whalen, CEO, High Rankings * David Naylor, SEO, Bronco * Greg Boser, President, WebGuerrilla LLC
This session always is a lot of fun and today will be no different. As the first session of SES NY kicks off, I've already run into Lee Odden and Matt McGee in addition to Ross Weale and Jake Matthews in the audience. These guys rock.
Q: To what extent do you think Google uses patterns to give authority to their listings, and how relevant do you think PageRank is? Greg: I don't think PR is relevant at all (the way it used to be in the old days) but I think Google tracks user visitors -- perhaps not all the time, though. PageRank is important in if you get crawled, how often you get crawled, etc. but it's not the magic bullet. Dave: PageRank really shows how many pages you hold in the index. The more authority you've got, the more bonus features you're going to get from Google. From the user data side of it, I think Google uses some of that but for more blended areas. Ex: Steve Ballmer - if you search, you get news, images, and video. I think that goes down to user data; they pick out which video they want from what users are looking at. If you have a blog, you can get indexed and ranked within 2 hours which is fine because a blog is like a newsfeed. If you hit something new, it's like finding a cure for AIDS. Everyone links to you and it becomes a page in the index with its own relevancy. Analytics and user data and are so easy to fake. Jill: PageRank is very important but not the little green bar that you see on the toolbar. What Google knows -- real PR is important -- it's an important part of their algorithm, but the toolbar isn't accurate. As far as user data, they are going to use as much information as they have.
Q: You mentioned blogs. Is there any metrics that prove that blog sites are outranking static sites, and can that continue if there's a blog for everyone and their mother's dogs? Dave: I think the blogosphere is that the platform that it's published on. If there are 10 blogs that do the exact same thing, that's where the issue starts, but because they have a small lifespan, I don't think it is an issue. Blogs are a supplement to your website and a way to get extra spikes of traffic when you need it. Blogs are a great way to be controversial. Jill: For blogs, in terms of getting rankings, you're naturally using keywords in your posts. That's where you get your long tail traffic. It's not a rankings tool -- it's more of a tool to establish yourself as an expert in your field (if you write good stuff). You need to write about interesting things. Don't just write about everything that others in the industry write about. Have your own voice and be different and that's how your blog will really survive. Greg: Are blog sites outpacing static sites? I think that RSS enabled sites are outpacing non-RSS enabled sites. That's because RSS gives you a lot more crawl frequency because of the pinging factor that takes place. Blogging isn't about anchor text; it's a distribution chain to get links to your content and that will support your static sites. Use your blogs to support your static sites. Dave: Bloggers use sites as a point of reference and that naturally gives you links. (Apparently, Dave wants me to link to his site. So there you have it, Dave.) Mike: Social media sites also help a lot - I used some (Digg, delicious, StumbleUpon) and 2 hours later, my site ranked.
Q: My question is about buying paid links. How do they tell if it is in fact a paid link or if it's an organic link? Greg: This is the biggest joke in all of history. They can tell because they join networks and infiltrate sites all over the network. Unless you're getting fresh new inventory, Google will know (they have spies). If you negotiate deals on your own, those links are not algorithmically discovered. We like to look for bloggers in our topic and we also like AdBrite because it has a good directory of sites and blogs that look for revenue. You don't see ads when you go there. If I pay you, AdBrite doesn't get the credit, so you'll get double the money. Mike: If you have links from sites that all are PR5 and above, that's not natural. Greg: If you are using a broker, check archive.org. We look at who they're selling links to and see if that advertiser was there a few months ago and we check keyword phrases that they're buying and see if those terms are ranking. Dave: I'm with the search engines on link buying - people with big wallets win. We don't want to get involved in specific link buying activity. The risks are way too high. Google destroyed the link building market. You can buy a boatload of links, throw it at a website, and that website will rank but not for very long. You'll get caught. Matt Cutts said recently that PR sculpting is secondary. You should focus on building your internal PR. If your PR is 2, you're not going to get 20,000 pages indexed. You might want to try to get a higher PR first. Jill: Search engines are smart. If the links on a page don't make sense in the context of a page which a lot of these don't, Google can tell that stuff. Buying the links and knowing which sites sell them leave footprints behind which can get you caught. If you're going to do it, do it under the radar and make it make sense in the context where it would be relevant and make sense.
Q from Jake Matthews: All other factors being equal, how are search engines treating TLDs? How are they ranking them? Are they giving any preference to them? Greg: I would never use .info. I have never seen a quality site use them. .net, .org, and .com - we use those all. Those .us and .info are spammin and jammin domains. I wouldn't use them. Dave: We have a very large problem in the UK. It's called Google. Geotargeting is a bit tricky. You can search for football and get Australian football news. But if I go to google.co.uk and search for football, I get a mix of NFL and UK football. When I go to Google.com, I get no soccer results. (Greg: As it should be!) When I check Google.ca, it's the best blend - there's NFL, Canadian football, and British football. That's the results I want to be. When I'm in the UK, everything is so centric to the UK. Mike: I have a friend who is buying .cn domain names by the thousands. (Jill: You have a friend?) Google pulls them down all the time. Greg: It's called churn and burn. Dave: Just 301 those sites to your competitor and watch them go down...
Q: Greg, you talked about PR sculpting. Can you elaborate? Greg: It's nothing you should worry about if you have a PR2 or a PR3. Toolbar PR will give you an idea about what Google thinks of your site is trustworthy. That might be where you want to do some sculpting. Use nofollow tag on these pages to point the content to the ones you want rankings. [Dave then explains nofollow and how it's used - not passing trust to pages, etc.] Greg: For the sculpting part, Matt said it's a tool you should use. Once I heard him endorse it, it took away my theory that it may not be a good thing. It's evolved according to Google as a tool. Dave: Nofollow from a non-trust perspective means "I don't want you to go there." Jill: Why not robots.txt? Greg: Becasue robots.txt doesn't prevent the flow of PR. It will not be indexed but the PR juice will still flow. Privacy policies, TOS pages, and other pages don't need to be ranked. If you have 20,000 pages indexed and you see your top landing pages and only 100 of those are accessed, you may want to revisit how you're sculpting your pages.
Q: How important is the server of your website is on? If it has a terrible uptime, will it affect my ranking? What about a server with a .mx domain name (Mexico) that is hosted in the US? Greg: A lot of overseas comapnies have their sites hosted in the US. As long as you have a TLD, you shouldn't need to have to worry. Jill: There are a lot of good threads on High Rankings about the benefits of hosting within your country. Dave: I work with quite a few international companies and they have localized office. One of the problems I've experienced is that in India, the ping rate is so bloody slow that we don't necessarily know if the site is live or not. Some of the infracture inside those countries is just not acceptable, so we do round robin DNS and host elsewhere or use gateway pages. We need the IP address and TLD ranking for the localized listings. Mike: If you're in .de, do you have to host in Germany? Greg: If you have a .de and don't have a German IP, they'll typically do the right thing. If you have a .com and a German IP, they will also do a similar thing. Search engines also look at the country of origin of sites that link to you. We have a Canandian client that has a Canadian IP and serves a US market and MSN is notoriously bad with its filtering of these kids of sites. Dave: You want an uptime of a server to be 99.9999999%. Jill: If search engines can't access your server, you won't get your site crawled as often.
Q: How important is it to incorporate a major keyword into your domain name? Dave: I think it's a big mistake. Get a domain name that's brandable. Don't aim for a competitive keyword if you don't have the budge for it. Jill: You don't want a keyword that is so generic. You want to have a company name. Greg: If you're trying to brand and you're also trying to get off brand, the off-brand stuff does do brand names in their domain. I'm not crazy about multiple hyphens. It's more of a usability thing. Jill: Don't go changing your existing sites just to add key phrases into your URL. If you're doing a redesign anyway, go for it, but 301 the old pages. Greg: As a user, I want to know that I'm accessing a page that I'm specifically looking for. If it's a dynamic URL, it's not as intuitive.
Q: Regarding coding for accessibility and a sighted user, you may want to hide some content. Can you speak about any breakthroughs in Google recognizing good hidden content versus bad hidden content? Dave: The human editors are getting quite well at detecting it. If you get into cloaking and hiding text in CSS, I've seen websites that have done it for the last 10 years. It's almost like harmless for this particular person. You have to ask: is he cloaking to deceive or is he cloaking to help? Some people might say "it's cloaking, goodbye!" and others might realize that it's useful. Greg: There's a huge difference in what Google says publicly and what actually happens. There's no magically detecting cloaking Googlebot. Basically, it functions off the tattle-tale system. They have tools that analyze stuff in greater detail but it comes from a spam report usually from a competitor. What does get tossed often comes from human review -- but Google will never tell you that. Jill: It's really whether you're doing it for good or you're doing it for evil. You shouldn't worry (if you're doing it for good).
Mike asks a question to the audience: what time is it? 10:30!