Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Bing's Emojis & the Diversity of SEO Content

Big news! Yesterday, the search engine Bing announced that it will now offer results for emoji-exclusive searches. At the risk of inviting ridicule, Bing made the announcement with a straight-face, appeasing the ten-and-under crowd:

"As you likely know, emoji are small pictures used to express an idea or emotion. With the explosion of mobile devices and the ubiquity of texting, it has become a shorthand language used by billions of us around the world. At Bing we want you to be able to search the same way you communicate every day."

Here's a visual representation from Bing's blog post, "Do You Speak Emoji? Bing Does":

Apparently, SEO specialists will now need to optimize for emojis, too.

We're speaking tongue-in-cheek here, but this move by Bing, however ridiculous, speaks to a key SEO concept: diversity of content. Here at the Organic SEO Blog, we talk a lot about content, especially in terms of good, error-free writing. Original quality writing is the cornerstone of any successful organic SEO campaign.

The Organic SEO Blog's sponsor, Alex Stepman of Stepman's PC, employs experienced copy-writers for each of his SEO clients. Most of these copy writers have advanced degrees in writing--including yours truly, from Warren Wilson's MFA Program!

Alex believes the Internet is best served when website owners provide quality writing. Happily, this is not only Alex's opinion: it's Google's opinion, too. In its Webmaster Tools, Google offers the following advice:

"Provide high-quality content on your pages, especially your homepage. This is the single most important thing to do. If your pages contain useful information, their content will attract many visitors and entice webmasters to link to your site. In creating a helpful, information-rich site, write pages that clearly and accurately describe your topic. Think about the words users would type to find your pages and include those words on your site."

So, first and foremost, your site should offer quality language. Yet, as the Bing announcement reveals, content is not merely language. When optimizing your website for search engines, then, think about all the various forms of content that you might offer.

Pictures? Videos? Emojis?

What forms of content do you use? Let us know in the comments!

Our suggestion: play to your strengths. If you create lovely images, then by all means you should be populating your site with images. The key to proper use of these "alternative" forms of content is proper optimization. If used correctly, all types of content can contribute to a positive ranking. Just pay attention to that "if." For example, Google itself notes:

"Try to use text instead of images to display important names, content, or links. The Google crawler doesn't recognize text contained in images. If you must use images for textual content, consider using the ALT attribute to include a few words of descriptive text."

To be safe, you might simply support your text with other forms of content. However, if you want to make alternative forms of content the centerpiece of your site, you'd do well to read Google's Webmaster Guidelines.

Just remember, the best content is the content that makes sense for your unique website. We wouldn't suggest adding emojis--unless, of course, they make sense for you--but you might do well with other forms of content.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Algorithm: A Working Definition

We've been talking a lot about algorithms recently. The reason is simple: Google has been talking a lot about algorithms. Two weeks ago, Google announced an "update" to its Panda algorithm. And a little over a week ago, Google announced an update to the Penguin algorithm.

For the SEO community, the news is arriving fast and furious. Google often "refreshes" its algorithms monthly, but "updates" are less frequent, and usually more consequential. So we feel it's important to write about these updates, and to discuss their potential consequences for your website. 

With all our talk about algorithms, however, we've received some feedback from several readers--mostly owners of small Internet businesses--that our talk has gotten a little "esoteric."

The word "esoteric" is often associated with cults, like this one. However the definition of esoteric is more benign: "intended for or likely to be understood by only a small number of people with a specialized knowledge or interest." [Picture Source: Sensei Marketing]

The Organic SEO Blog was created with the intention of writing about SEO in a way that would be accessible for specialists and laypeople alike. So, honestly, we hate to be referred to as "esoteric." 

In reality, however, it is hard to write about Google's algorithms without sounding, well, a bit esoteric. After all, this stuff is complex.

As Google's own, John Mueller, wrote in a help thread in September:

"In practice, a site is never in a void alone with just a single algorithm. We use over 200 factors in crawling, indexing, and ranking."
 
If you're an SEO layperson, pay attention to this comment. It's simple, yet profound, and it gets to the heart of what the word, "algorithm," really means.

In fact, we believe this quote offers a good working definition of an algorithm: a system for crawling, indexing, and ranking websites.

Viewing these three functions--crawling, indexing, and ranking--separately also offers a helpful view of exactly why algorithms--and SEO specialists--exist.

So below we'll try to define each function as simply as possible. Just a note: we often refer to Google's algorithms, but the definitions below can also apply to how search engines, like Yahoo or Bing, offer reliable search results. 

Crawling

Web "crawlers"  are often called "spiders," and this is the easiest way to envision their function. Spiders crawl the Internet in an attempt to gather valuable information from websites. If a certain website links to another page on the same site, or a to a different site, the spider will follow the link and gather more information. In this way, the spider creates a web of information that is sent back to Google for indexing.

It's important to note: not every website is crawled. This is why it is important to follow today's web development standards, and why, we believe, it is important that your website developer understands the basics of SEO. Please read: "Website Development: The Perfect Job for Spock." Beyond making sure your website is crawled, a website developer with knowledge of SEO may or may not make "granular choices" to further refine how it is crawled. Again, your website developer should know about these choices. As Google writes here:

"Most websites don’t need to set up restrictions for crawling, indexing or serving, so their pages are eligible to appear in search results without having to do any extra work. That said, site owners have many choices about how Google crawls and indexes their sites through Webmaster Tools and a file called “robots.txt”. With the robots.txt file, site owners can choose not to be crawled by Googlebot, or they can provide more specific instructions about how to process pages on their sites."

Indexing

The information obtained from crawlers needs to be organized. This is the function of indexing. This process is self-evident: Once Google receives information from the crawler, it creates an index, much like the back of a non-fiction book, so that it can easily retrieve the information for future use.

As Google says:

"The web is like an ever-growing public library with billions of books and no central filing system. Google essentially gathers the pages during the crawl process and then creates an index, so we know exactly how to look things up. Much like the index in the back of a book, the Google index includes information about words and their locations. When you search, at the most basic level, our algorithms look up your search terms in the index to find the appropriate pages."

An SEO specialist can have a profound influence on how a website is discovered by the crawlers, but indexing is purely a a Google function. 

Ranking

Last week Google inferred that it would be adding a new ranking signal: websites that offer better mobile experiences will rank higher on mobile search--and, possibly, desktop rankings. This new signal, however, is merely one of hundreds that define precisely how each algorithm will effect your website's ranking.

Ranking is the end-result of crawling and indexing. Once the information is gathered, and sorted, it is then ranked in a way that Google believe is most beneficial to the browser's experiences. Attentiveness to crawling and indexing is an important function of an SEO specialist, but attentiveness to the many ranking singles is really what sets the best SEO specialists apart.

Backlink has a very helpful list of the "complete list" of Google ranking factors. Some of this list is speculative (Google is often stingy about offering ranking single information), but much of it is really spot-on. Some factors are more important than others; and some matter very little, although it's good to be attentive to each and every one.

***

If you're looking for more information on algorithms, try Google itself.

Here on The Organic SEO Blog we discuss algorithms not only as functions but ideas. If you're looking for a more philosophical view of algorithms, please read: "A Frank Look at Algorithms."

For a more topical view of algorithms, try: "Algorithms Have Consequences."

And, of course, if you'd like to speak directly to an SEO specialist who understands the complexity of algorithms, we suggest calling our sponsor, Alex Stepman, of Stepmans PC: 215-900-9398.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Three Popular Misconceptions: Demystifying the Practice of SEO

The SEO blogs are alive with the sound of algorithm updates. Panda! Penguin! And the news is making the SEO world giddy. As WebProNews reported last Friday, "If the latest comments from Google about a pending Penguin update are to be believed, webmasters will find the update just delightful."

Delightful, indeed. The tone of the WebProNews article is exemplary of the sarcasm with which many SEO specialists greet the news of a new algorithm update. In reality, Google's updates often present headaches for even the most knowledgeable and successful specialists. And yet, the article also reveals a fact about SEO that most novices take for granted: that website optimization, by nature, is a collaborative effort.

One key SEO misconceptions is that the practice is a fight against the search engines. Nonsense!

With each algorithm update, Google creates new guidelines for SEO specialists--or, in Google's parlance, "webmasters." Some might complain about the hassle of adapting to these ever-changing guidelines, but any webmaster worth his or her salt understands that Google's purpose is to improve the browsing experience.

Please read: "Google & SEO: Dynamic Partners."

The best SEO specialists work together with the search engines to create clean websites with searchable content that is relevant, error-free, and truly informative. From Google's point of view, this is precisely how the Internet improves. This is why the search giant tries to be transparent about the nature of its algorithm updates.

A major element of the Penguin algorithm, for example, is its focus on bad links. In the past, some websites have been damaged by the way Google has defined bad links. And yet, as Search Engine Land reported from SMX East, a major search marketing expo, Google is doing its best to allow these sites to recover:

"Google could have done a Penguin update more frequently, but they want to push out an update that makes both webmasters and users happy. So they are working hard on making both happy.

[Google] also said that if you disavow bad links now or as of about two weeks ago, it will likely be too late for this next Penguin refresh. But [Google] added that the Penguin refreshes will be more frequent because of the new algorithm in place."

Our obligatory panda picture [Source]

It is a popular misconception, even in the SEO world, that the algorithm updates are a form of punishment. This is patently false. The updates are a form of tutelage: Google teaching webmasters how to improve the Internet. As we wrote before:

"With each update, Google explains precisely why the new algorithm is necessary, what will happen if you don’t follow the rules, and how to update your website to meet the new SEO standards. Yes, Google reveals this information. You might not know where to find it, but it certainly exists. A well-trained SEO professional will always stay up-to-date with all the major SEO techniques and updates."

Please read: "Bad Links? Bad News!"

Another popular misconception about SEO is that the practice is somehow esoteric. Mystified by jargon, most website owners find the world of SEO inexplicable, or worse, impractical.

Nothing could be farther from the truth! In reality, SEO deals with precisely defined guidelines set by Google itself. The key for a website owner is to 1) learn the practice for him or herself, or 2) find an SEO specialist who can explain the seeming complexities of the practice in simple terms.

At the Organic SEO Blog, we pride ourselves on the simplicity of our style. We hope to democratize the practice of SEO by explaining its elements in clear and precise terms. When we use jargon, we strive to explain its meaning. If you ever have questions about our posts, please leave a comment. Or better yet, call our resident SEO specialist, Alex Stepman: 215-900-9398.