John Andrews is a Competitive Webmaster and Search Engine Optimization Consultant in Seattle, Washington. This is John Andrews blog on issues of interest to the SEO community and competitive webmasters. Want to know more?

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January 18th, 2008 by john andrews

Go Google Go!

Check your logs… we are in the Age of the New Google. Go baby, go! That’s what i want to say.

Google is kickin’ it right now, with their latest “intelligence” at work in the relevancy portions of the algo. I don’t know if Matt & Co. are behind the improvements in the relevance, but I would expect the quality team to be a big part of the advancing of intelligence in the engine. Either way the NewGoogle rocks!

I speak from the viewpoint of publisher here. Today’s Google is way beyond the text engine of yesteryear now, and much smoother than the early LSI stuff we played with in ’03. If you’ve been writing off 3+ term searches as “long tail” you should take another look at your logs today. I’m seeing highly relevant combination queries which clearly reflect user intent, ranking my theme-targeting pages with dead-on precision. If users haven’t adopted the “say more so we better understand your intent” method of searching, they will when they get used to this performance. It’s rewarding. Yeah, it’ll be tough to define what your “target terms” are going forward, but I’ve been singing that tune for a year at least already. The future of SEO is relevance, and there’s no avoiding it. The key is defining relevance, and understanding the Google’s approach to rewarding it. remember, folks. WE define relevance, not Google ;-)

Sorry I won’t give examples, but you can check your own logs. Google queries that are literally off the mark (keywords don’t match in an optimal sense, and sometimes don’t match at all) yet conceptually on the mark (the user is well served by the ranking page) are getting the right pages (mine). It’s beautiful.

I know this kind of lack of detail post will annoy you hard-core SEO tactical experts out there, so I suggest you just let it slide. Chalk this up as a bellwether, at best. Remembering what happened in ’03-’04 when the LSI spammers beat that opportunity to a pulp, I’d just as soon nobody pay attention anyway. For the short term, independent SEOs will do well given the change, and desperate agencies will just make a mess of detailed explanations of how to game the new Google.

Disclaimer: I haven’t looked at SERP quality, only referred traffic quality and search terms (somebody needs to make that process easier). This has been building for over a month (maybe two) by my recollection, watching a few sites designed to work this approach to optimization. If you have seen higher levels of better converting traffic since the holidays, why not examine the referrer strings and see if you, too recognize a more intelligent Google at work (or some combination of more eloquent searcher and more intelligent Google).

Update: Bob Massa offers another view of the changes showing in Google:

…we are going through a transition in how Google chooses what to show whom for a search. I believe we are seeing the old school algorithm based on the ”a link is a vote” style page rank, changing into a new age algorithm of how to weight which link, from whom and what do we know about them? Actually, do we know enough about them to trust them to make us look smart? Or at least not to make us look dumb.

I have to defer to Bob on the matter of links because my test sites in semantics are deliberately shy of inbound links and painfully low on said link quality. Perhaps if Bob’s idea applies to internal links as well as inbounds, a trusted site would increase “relevance” exponentially with the granting of trust to a domain (due to internal linking), but that would show up on other test sites focused on internal cross-referencing as well.

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January 15th, 2008 by john andrews

Maturity is Knowing You’re not All That

If there is one thing I have learned in life it is that I have a lot to learn. That is why I study. That is why I keep my eyes open. And that is partially why I suffer frustration and disappointment when I encounter cheaters who disregard the common good to gain some short-sighted goal (e.g. polluting to environment along the way to earning a living wage). I so wish they were not so ignorant, or that at least they recognized that they were capable of learning.

If people would simply recognize their own ability to learn and advance, we could all avoid some pretty dangerous situations (like global warming, or major recessions, contaminated drinking water, disease spread, vehicular accidents, etc). I do recognize situational blindness — the inability to see reality due to the stresses of a situation. In those cases, I look to those who have some influence over the situation to be responsible (the boss of that wage worker who knowingly pollutes the environment because that’s the only way he can accomplish his assigned tasks and get paid).

I believe in enlightenment. If you don’t, then please look back at your past and explain how you could have been so ignorant back then to have done what you did. The context doesn’t matter.. we can all look back and see when we did things badly because we simply didn’t know what we know now. And that demonstrates enlightenment. So, perhaps, we actually all do believe in enlightenment?

Anyway, a big part of maturity is knowing you’re not “All That“. Yes, you may be great and knowledgeable, but if you think you are ALL knowing or REALLY GREAT, chances are you will suffer some reality blindness. The consequences depend on your risk management, but for SEO people, thinking you really know what you’re doing across different web publishing situations can be an expensive trap to trip.

Here are just a few “basic SEO” questions which in my view, should challenge your confidence no matter what “level” of SEO you have achieved. I ask them directly in the common ways, but then add more detail in an attempt to better demonstrate the potential traps:

Q: Does the order of content within a web document matter for search engine optimization?

SEO people will tell you that an HTML table should be adjusted so the search engines get the meaty on-theme content first, instead of the column headings or row labels, and that makes great sense. Some SEOs will say go to CSS and stop using tables altogether, because the control CSS gives you on content positioning makes a big difference for SEO. Some people will say put the javascript into an include, so the search engine has a shorter path to the meaty content you want examined for theme relevance. Some still say the search engines only read 50 or 100k of content per document, and advise you to get your meaty content up front into that chunk. All seemingly sound arguments… but are they accurate?

Google has become very good at parsing web pages into segments, in order to “understand” the intent of the published page. This has been going on for over a year now. As Google parses the page and determines sectional intent (presumably in order to properly weight core relevant content more heavily than superfluous filler or cross-referencing content), how does content order play into that process? How does one tell? CSS is great for separating style from content, which can be a much biger aid to search marketing than positional ordering. HTML tables are an optimal tool for presenting tabular data, and in some cases tables are the only sensible way to mark up data (which should be styled via CSS).

Q: Do keywords in the folder and filename help search engine optimization?

Some SEOs say it doesn’t make any difference. Some say it helps a lot, and some even define an approach to setting keywords in folder names or filenames such that they exact-match search queries or Hn tags or page titles. Some SEOs say it might help, if not today then maybe tomorrow, so why not do it? Some SEOs recognize that creating keywordy folders and filenames can be a very large undertaking, as it represents a completely different content management approach (with filenames and locations now housing page-level meta data courtesy of that “SEO requirement”). Some might even suggest that for SEO, URL management can be even more important than content management. Who to believe? What to believe? Who is right? Personally I don’t think any SEO not integrally involved with the development team should pretend to suggest the right move in this situation.

Q: Which is more important, quantity of back links, quality of back links, or distribution of back links? Deep links to themed sub-pages, or themed links to the home page?

A great question, with a variety of answers posted all around the web. There has been so much focus on page rank and link juice flow and aggregate summation of linking effects, it often seems SEO people have completely forgotten that Google is a collection of smart people working on the search/Internet/relevance problem every day.

Google moved past much of that link stuff long ago. They use links and link profiles in creative new ways, whenever research suggests that links and link profiles strongly correlate with any signal of quality under consideration as a potential quality improvement opportunity. Sure they have problems countering paid links and third-party reciprocals and the like, but I doubt there is as much benefit to be had on that front compared to other fronts where Google might now be trusting linking and link profiles for select quality measures. Which is more important for ranking? How can any SEO defend taking a position on that, outside of the specific context of the site under consideration?

Q: What is the optimal length of a title tag?

I see this so much it hurts. Some SEOs say it should be an optimal length, while some say it should avoid being longer than some limit. Some say as short as possible to focus on the target keyword, and others say stuff it full of related keywords. Some point out that it’s a page element, not a tag, and cite W3C specifications for proper use. Who is correct? What is optimal for Google? For Yahoo!?

I could point to several live examples of almost every case. How then, do SEO people publish SEO advice on the topic with authority?

Q: Should I have one deep, rich web site, or should I break it into smaller, niche sites which follow some crafted interlinking scheme?

This also shows up on plenty of SEO forums and advice web sites, and is oft-debated on web master community sites like WebMasterWorld. Many have strong opinions, and state with authority why one should have one deep site or perhaps many small niche sites. Which is accurate advice? Which authority is really an authority?

Q: Should I worry about Yahoo! and Ask, or just focus on Google?

Many SEO people say Google serves all the traffic today, so best focus on SEO for Google. Some web publishers report that Yahoo” traffic converts better thanGoogle traffic. Some even state (with authority?) that Google traffic is more research-oriented, serving information seekers, while Yahoo! is more product-oriented, with more shoppers than information seekers. Some say Ask is not worth even considering, because it sends so little traffic. Which SEO advice is good advice? Who’s right? Or perhaps the best question to ask here, “What Say You, Mr Expert?

So then, who do you believe?

In my opinion, if you have strong convictions for any of the above questions, you maybe reality blind with respect to SEO. In my experience, each of these issues depends heavily on the specific markets and publishing scenario under consideration… or at last it may. We’d have to check, wouldn’t we? And if that is true, what is the measure of a good Search Marketer?

I put critical thinking at the top of the list, along with creativity, experience, and determination/passion, in that order. Least important, and potentially last on the list of factors to consider when choosing an SEO consultant? Public profile established via speaking engagements, professional association, or SEO information published with authority on the Internet. There are many other factors to consider when choosing any consultant (e.g. work habits, reliability, integrity, honesty) and some of those may be evaluated through examination of public speaking engagements etc., but when it comes to SEO qualification, in my view if you think you’re All That, you’re probably not.

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January 13th, 2008 by john andrews

More Search Marketing BS: The Players get their Feathers Ruffled

The other day I got upset about Danny Sullivan’s Search Engine Land publishing an article which suggested search marketers could get “free links” by spamming the new Wired Wiki. I called his choice of headlines “stupid”. You can read it on this blog… it is the previous post. Not only was his an irresponsible headline, but the professional position taken by the SearchEngineLand people was that Google’s “rel=nofollow” attribute should be assigned by default to web publications — something I disagree with completely. As someone else pointed out, even Danny Sullivan’s own Sphinn web site doesn’t use nofollow. Anyway, Danny Sullivan (the most popular guy in search?) got upset and posted lengthy comments here, on Sphinn, and on his web sites. I also got one as email.

But what really bothers me is the comment posted here by someone claiming to be Rand Fishkin. It was posted by “randfish” with the address of seomoz, and you can also read it on the previous post. It is pretty ugly. It reads thusly:

This blog post (and a similar one from another source) are pure hypocrisy, crass negative link (and attention) baiting and feed off the natural draw of drama on the Internet. For shame, John. To think I had respected you, invited you to events and even recommended your services. On occasion, your posts and comments have made me question your integrity or worry that my respect for you was unfounded. Here, you’ve sealed the deal. “Trashy sensationalism that crossed ethical borders for the sake of short term audience attention grabbing” Repulsive, derisive filth (and obvious hypocrisy). Disgusting.

I warned you it was ugly. But I’m not sure it’s real. So I am calling on Rand Fishkin to confirm that he did indeed author that comment, before I remove it from moderation (and address it). You see, fact is, despite what this comment says, I have ever ever even met Rand Fishkin (nor has he met me). I have never been introduced to him, nor him to me. No handshake. Nothing. Never did a gig together; never chatted at any conferences… I know of the guy, but that’s all. Which is why his posting that crap comment on my blog is so “interesting” to me.

See the part where it says he had been recommending me, but would now stop? If we have never met, that really doesn’t make sense, does it? And the part about questioning my integrity? Well.. I’ll wait to address that.. I don’t want to be misled by a FakeRandFishkin or anything like that, if this really isn’t the same Rand Fishkin from seoMOZ.

So if anyone does actually know Rand Fishkin, please ask him to post a comment on one of his own properties to prove that he really did submit this comment here, on my blog. It might be best to drop a note over here as well so I will see it. We need to clear up a few things.

Update: End of story. Rand Fishkin of SEOMOZ admits to writing that comment, and apparently admits so proudly. He also retracted an invitation to have lunch, which he sent me years ago. Funny, really. He has never met me, and makes up that crap to try and make it look like he’s a long time friend now losing his confidence in me and distancing himself. What trash. And the scariest part of all this… he had the balls to jump on what looked like an opportunity to trash me for what.. to gain favor of Danny Sullivan? At what cost?

Ruffled feathers. Boo hoo Rand doesn’t like me any more. I guess the four times I turned him down for lunch/coffee/meetup over the past 3 years didn’t hold any clue. But that’s not the point. The point is, even though I disagree with just about every position he takes, and dislike most what he says publicly, I don’t dump my critical comments in his living room for everyone to read. Some people have no class.

Update again: oops… silly me. I just noticed Rand Fishkin has been hawking Danny Sullivan’s upcoming SMX West Conference. Duh.  Rand says right in his super-promotional “article” that “Danny, Chris, Michelle, Karen, & other Chris aren’t just people I respect and work with; they’re friends…SEOmoz does have a partnership with Third Door Media…apologies in advance for the somewhat promotional nature…” Okay so call me ignorant… I didn’t know Rand was shilling for Danny, but that explains alot.

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John Andrews is a mobile web professional and competitive search engine optimzer (SEO). He's been quietly earning top rank for websites since 1997. About John

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