Live (well 10 minute delay?) from the afternoon keynote here at SES San Jose. We’ve got Matt Cutts, Robert Scoble, Danny Sullivan, Tim Westergren, Kirsten Mangers, Rich LaFurgy here to talk about search. I’ll try to add as the talk goes on…
OK, it’s over and was disappointing. All the speakers are exceptional experts, but I think this casual approach did not work because rarely did we get any of the meaty search information both Matt Cutts and Danny Sullivan generally deliver. If I was making recommendations to SES I would have had each of these folks do separate sessions in their areas of expertise and get into more detail. Matt, for example, is arguably the world’s top search expert and Robert one of the very top experts on blogging and social communities. No need to water their stuff down so much.
Search Engine Optimization is at the same time a simple concept (help the search engines find and rank your pages) and a very complex one (proper use of redirection when changing domain names, Google downranking, duplicate content and hundreds more topics that are covered online in many places and also at conferences like the SES Conference Series, Webmasterworld PubCon, or the SMX Conferences.
Arguably the best source for basic SEO information is Matt Cutts’ blog, and he always has great summaries of the conferences at which he gives talks. Here’s a great post from Matt today after Danny Sullivan’s SMX Seattle Conference. Google has added some information to their famous (and infamous) webmaster Guidelines, which should be read by every webmaster as they are the best *basic* information about how to structure a site to be ranked properly. You’ll also want to read Matt’s SEO posts which offer a lot more specifics and technical advice.
Although several years ago you would *also* have been well advised to read up on some of the tricks of the trade such as various schemes for keyword optimization, I would argue that for most webmasters tricks are more likely to be counterproductive than productive. This is a really rich topic because there remain many techniques that fall into a sort of gray area of optimization where ranks are affected, but crossing the Google draws between acceptable techniques and unacceptable can lead to severe penalties. Since Google does not draw a clear objective line we have the ongoing gray area of optimization.
Many SEO techniques relate to *linking* strategies and *keyword optimization*. It is an area where I believe Google has in many ways fueled the rise of the very content they hate by making the rules too vague and (more importantly) allowed adsense advertising on pages that don’t meet reasonable web quality standards. Early in the game I was often frustrated when I would improve on a bad page only to have it drop in ranks due to algorithmic quirks. I soon decided to leave crappy but high ranked pages alone, fearing they’d be downranked if I changed them. This in turn caused problems as Google tightened up quality standards. Google is great about transparency in several areas, but algorithmic search penalties are not one of them.
I should also say there are some exceptionally good SEO folks out there who always have amazing advice when I bump into them at conferences. David Naylor and Aaron Wall, and Todd Malicoat all have remarkable insight into the complexities of Google ranking as does Vanessa Fox who used to work for Google and Danny Sullivan who runs the SMX series of SEO Conferences. My general advice about SEO is to do it yourself or in-house, but there are a handful of people like this who know the game so well that the normal rules about avoiding SEO folks do not apply.
Some of the most lively debate and controversy at search conferences surrounds the issue of Google ranking rights. At Search Engine Strategies in San Jose the most interesting (and confrontational) session involved Michael Gray taking Matt Cutts to task on Google’s aggressive stand on commercially driven linking.
The stakes of the “right to rank” question may become even higher in the context of a recent Microsoft v Google case, where MS is suggesting in their court brief against the Google Doubleclick merger that the merger will create something like monopoly conditions in the online advertising space because (according to Microsoft’s sources) Google+Doubleclick serve more than half the world’s online advertising.
Although I don’t think MS is attacking Google ranking methods directly here it’ll be interesting to see if Google claims that since their algorithm does not rank the free “organic” listings on a commercial basis the suit has less merit than it would if they *did* favor sites in the organic listings.
This would, of course, beg the key point that Google’s ranking power is now so high that it can make or break companies – offline as well as online – depending on how they rank in the organic “free” listings. This confers on Google an obligation that IMHO they still do not take seriously enough – the obligation to minimize the collateral damage and maximize the correct rankings using, if necessary, more human intervention. In short I’m saying that until the results are *so good* that only highly subjective opinions are coming into play Google needs to do *more* than is currently done, based on the principle that “with great wealth comes great responsibility”. Ironically I think Google’s success has to a large extent insulated them from the growing criticism in the webmaster community. Some of that criticism is self serving, e.g. spammers who are unhappy their tactics now fail, but much of the criticism is coming from users and newly minted webmasters or mom and pops who are frustrated because they can’t seem to get ranked properly for even the most obvious queries. Google blames the spammers for this, but it’s a dynamic process and more transparency from Google – perhaps with stronger forms of site and webmaster ID for “official” or clearly white hat sites – could go a long way to solving the transparency problems.
Over at Matt Cutts’ blog he makes this point about a recent ASK court case decision in favor of a search engine’s right to rank as they see fit. This point lies at the heart of the right to rank debate:
Again, it makes sense that search engines get to decide how to rank/remove content in their own index…
I replied over there:
Matt …hmmm….wouldn’t you agree that this has some clear limits? What would you call crossing the line on this freedom to rank however you see fit?
If Google pulled what Yahoo did some time ago and essentially forced sites to pay for inclusion or be excluded would that fall within the sensical realm?
MSN is claiming (somewhat ironically and hypocritically, but correctly) that Google’s ad power is becoming close enough to a monopoly that remedies are in order. Historically there has been trouble when a single company or country controlled more than half a resource – why no problem here?