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Archive | Search Engines

Updates on Panda and Penguin

Matt Cutts, speaking before a SES conference in San Francisco last month, announced another round of major changes that would again turn the Web Traffic Optimization world on its head. Google, as Cutts described, is currently in the process and would soon be releasing updates. This means another death knell for companies that have invested time and effort into their SEO campaigns, requiring another round of going back to the SEO strategy fundamentals as well as a review of social networking processes to avoid being hit hard, again.

Many now understand that manipulation of the Internet through purchase of links for advertising purposes is a definite no- no with Google. Many fail to realize that social media platforms are immune to the upcoming updates even from Google.

Cutts admits this by saying, “Google can only use social signals from Open Graph sources. It can’t crawl Facebook pages to see who is reputable, reliable or has real world impact as a brand has on those platforms. (Twitter) is a private service, If Twitter wants to suspend someone’s service, they can. Google was able to crawl Twitter until its deal ended and Google was blocked from crawling those pages for 1.5 months. As such, Google is cautious about using that as a signal – Twitter can shut it off at any time.”

This means that businesses that utilize social media should continue on their social media marketing campaigns. Bots from Google may not be able to check you social media page all the time but with Twitter, Google may be able to shut down these errant SEO strategies and tactics.

Thus for the time being, it is best to forge ahead with your plan, but do be prepared for the coming storm. When your site is compliant with current updates, resulting in great content and high page ranking, avoid making changes. It is best to leave the changes with the experts before being decimated again by a Google update.

Yahoo Becoming More Like Google

One of the first moves of new Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer is patterning the workplace to look like her former office, Google. (For the uninitiated, Marissa Mayer was a former Google executive who was recently hired as CEO of Yahoo). Her first order of business is to have a weekly Friday afternoon all-hands-on-deck general meeting at the search engine’s Sunnyvale HQ.

At the first meeting, her first change was to make available food at Yahoo’s URL Café in Silicon Valley for free for all engineers and employees. This has caused some ripples with the finance department, but this is how she envisions Yahoo for the next generation: much like her old office at Google. Other reported changes are to the layout of work spaces and buildings to make it more collaborative friendly, and upgrades to its current store shelves.

This focus on work culture at Yahoo is a known blueprint for Google in co-opting with the employees to produce not only sterling work but also a great work environment. The past few years for Yahoo have been more than dismal, with a string of layoffs, management changes and continued doldrums in market share and other business prospects.

According to one long time Yahoo employee, “It might be just a small thing, but people are thrilled.” These are but small changes, and CEO Mayer has more serious business to undertake, especially pushing for product innovation as the only means to have Yahoo survive. These include having better email, better Flickr, better search, better ad-serving or in a nutshell, being better in all that Yahoo has to offer. This is a tall order even for a Google savvy exec bent on search and innovation, which is where her vision lies in her new role as CEO of Yahoo.

According to one insider, “This is the sound of Yahoo becoming a technology company again. It will be all about platforms and products.” This translates to a big splashy tech innovation or product deals in the coming days, maybe even through acquisition of other media tech companies. On the menu are ad tech company Pubmatic and high profile product Flipboard.

In order to achieve this, the new CEO would need a team that shares in her vision and acumen. The question is, will all the new hires of the new CEO be given the green light as Google CEO’s Larry Page gave her during her tenure at Google? One such way that she seems to be moving forward is her asking all her direct reports for specific strategic plans in the next 45 days. While the old guard may leave CEO, many Google brethren are joining Mayer in Yahoo.

As many say, there are many Google changes in Yahoo.

Living with Panda: A Year of Complacency, Decisions and Recovery

In the past year, many website owners have been affected by Google’s roll out of its algorithm updates, codenamed Panda and Penguin. The new algorithms have affected how individual and company SEO strategies are implemented. Because of the confidential nature of the algorithm, it is hard to predict what should be done and what should not be done, but one thing is clear: the rules of the game has changed, and these updates are here to stay.

Even as some websites have been decimated because of the onslaught of Panda and Penguin, others have managed to recover their former rankings. The following are tips to consider when undertaking your own SEO plan on your website.

  1. Invest in valuable, fresh and original content. Rehashing content from competitor sites will not help your site overcome the new requisites set by Google. Google wants content that is interesting and unique, so the front page does not contain several paraphrased versions of the same content.
  2. Exercise restraint with SEO. It’s clear now that overly optimized sites will be penalized, which means keyword stuffing on pages or unnatural linking structures are things of the past. In fact, it’s probably safer to ignore what we think of as “SEO” altogether, and focus instead on writing your content and acquiring backlinks in a manner that’s consistent with what an average joe would think to do for his website. This means seeking out blogroll links from websites similar to your own, guest blogging, etc.
  3. Use social media for your own benefit. Google is now expanding into social media in determination of the popularity of a website as well as the links that work to provide benefits for SEO. Let’s face it: your users are on social media. If your website is not being liked, shared, and retweeted, this is a clear sign to Google that it isn’t relevent to your audience. Make your content shareable to many other individuals, and likely your search engine rankings will improve.
  4. Use tools for analysis, particularly Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools. Specifically, look at how users interact with your website. How long do they spend on your site on average? How many pages do they visit? Google is looking at these metrics to determine the quality of your site, and you should too. If your users aren’t taking the time to read your content, why would Google present it to them? Use these metrics to make your website more enjoyable to your users, and rankings will follow.
  5. Quality over quantity. Inbound links need to be quality driven and not quantity driven. You want links from authority websites with content that overlaps your own. Old tactics like buying bulk blog comment spam are now more likely to harm than help your website.

Although frustrating to many users, the recent Google updates have moved the search engine in the right direction. Whereas formerly we had to spend our time with SEO trying to improve our rankings, now all that needs to be done is concentrating on the delivering what your target audience wants. Produce great content and provide a good visitor experience, rather than using specific SEO techniques, and your site will not only rank better in Google — it will be generally more useful to your audience, and they’ll be more likely to share it in the first place.

Naver Rules Korean Online Searches

While it is without question that Google reigns supreme over 83% of the Internet real estate when it comes to searches, there are some areas where it still ranks a far second. One of these very small regions is South Korea. Topping the search engine list in the country is a search engine called Naver.

“Naver” is a derivative of the verb “to navigate”. This is the country’s top search engine and has a 70% captured market of the searches conducted online in South Korea. The search engine was the brainchild of several former Samsung employees in 1999 and has dominated the online search market since that time.

Unlike Google’s minimalist approach to its main search page and the plain listing of the search results, Naver provides more personality as well as more color. Naver resembles Yahoo’s search engine page, with many images, banners, sections and other organic parts. This is but the surface difference between these two search engines, but there lies much more underneath it.

Matt Cutts, an Internet expert who visited South Korea to highlight to its government and press how the Internet has become a major force in society, finds Naver lacking in the proper exposure it should provide to Korean websites. The problem is that many Korean webmasters block global search engines like Google, citing security reasons. Cutts warned them against this practice, saying, “If a country turns away from the open Web, it risks turning into an island.”

This is a myopic view of what is considered an “open” Web. Many think that by not becoming part of the Google “open” web, Korean websites are not fostering free exchange of ideas and information. On the contrary, Naver’s actions have arguably become the blueprint for Google and other search engine’s successes. The following are examples of areas where Naver has been ahead of the curve:

  • Naver had unveiled on the site a functionality called “Knowledge In” back in 2002. This was eventually the inspiration for Yahoo! Answers, where online users can provide information to questions posted on the site by users
  • Naver, upon its introduction, provided options for many kinds of search results when on the site. Google had picked this up much later, introducing its Universal Search functionality onsite
  • Naver has always maintained itself to be a socially oriented search engine, a move currently being undertaken by Google from its standard web searches to Google Plus and other options
  • Some features of the current Google were taken straight out of Naver, such as Google’s highly touted “Search Plus My World”, which is very similar to Naver’s me.naver.com, implemented years ago.

To all this, Naver has issued an official statement through its Chief Executive Officer Mr. Chae. Mr. Chae said, “Naver’s forte is in aggregating useful information for popular topics, often created by the users themselves (blogs and Q&A searches), and presenting such information in a very human-friendly way. Unlike Google, Naver doesn’t rely almost entirely on the brute force performance of its search algorithm.”

In essence, Naver is the amalgamation of Yahoo!Answers, YouTube, Blogger and Google’s paid search functionality. With many options for specific search results, one can find their requirements in either the Q&A database, blog search, news search and the like.

The major difference between these two search giants is the basis of the searches. Google depends its search parameters on the English language while Naver uses the Korean language. Because of the difference in syntax between the two languages, with the Korean syntax much more specific, helps the Naver search algorithm provides more search results to the user.

The justification for the difference of results between Google and Naver for Korean sites, according to Google, is Google’s inability to crawl and index Korean websites. This is where the Korean privacy issues start to limit Google’s webcrawler indexer. On the other hand, Naver understands the Korean mindset regarding the searches, limiting the indexing on its own.

This difference is very much seen in the search results themselves. Naver, with a smaller market, clearly would provide search results of lower quantity but higher quality. On the other hand, Google, with its vaunted search algorithm, just lists out results without regard to quantity. Furthermore, Naver, with its lower indexing results, provides listings for paid advertisements, directory submissions, user generated content, Web 2.0 content among others.

Because of the staggering differences between Naver and Google and because of the status of Korea as one of the few completely connected communities online, Google seems determined to dominate this market. Their first move is to index as much Korean content as they can, and beyond that, they are pressuring the Korean online community to optimize Google’s way, with the “don’t be an island” routine.

Unfortunately, even the market they are targeting is pretty much set on Naver as its main search engine. The Korean Internet community is dominated by Naver, much to the chagrin of Google. This has a self-limiting effect, though, especially to those paid advertisers on Naver. Because Naver is designed for a market that is for Koreans by Koreans, it is limited to the South Korean market. Trying to break into the Top ten in Google involves much time and effort, with little chance of success, something that Koreans are not too inclined to do.

There is also a discipline required to become one of the top search results even in a specific target market search engine such as Naver. In Google, there is a system called Search Engine Optimization. This does not hold true for Naver, as the site has its own specific algorithm for specific search functionalities. Naver utilizes a mixture of pay per click and pay per time advertising in search functionality for its search functions such as Knowledge In and its other multi-media blogs, news sites, image and video searches.

Ultimately, only time will tell if Google can break into the most connected geographical area in the world. But as long as the Korean netizens remain happy with Naver, it’s going to be a tough sell.

Fair Play Still Must Reign – A Commentary on the use of Negative SEO

With the new playing field set by Google’s “Penguin” update, there are new moves being undertaken by many webmasters and SEO specialists throughout the world. Negative SEO has again taken the spotlight, especially in light of the most recent developments online.

To the uninitiated, negative SEO is the practice of creating hundreds or thousands of spammy backlinks to a competitor’s website. This results in Google labeling the page as a spam site and penalizing it, resulting in the competitor being taken out of the picture.

Clearly, this is not fair play. This is a dirty tactic employed by those who do not have the acumen to develop their own sites and instead opt to crash other sites for their own benefit.

Google needs to develop a system to weed out this practice. The Internet is said to be the new frontier, where every man with the means and creativity should be able to make it with hard work and patience. Doing negative SEO is not about cultivating a website to be picked up in ranking because of its content. It is about torpedoing the good hard work of an individual in order to get ahead.

Each individual needs to work on their own sites and rank accordingly based on their own merit. Negative SEO is not something that can be overlooked. People put in their life savings into SEO projects in the hope that they strike it rich. Targeting these individuals to get ahead is what is called a crab mentality, allowing not the best to thrive but instead be brought down because of the machinations of another entity.

In real life, this is a criminal offense, but tracking this down is not the government’s work anymore. As the new frontier, Google makes the rules and enforces them. They manage the rules on ranking and creates the culture wherein people make money or lose it. As for negative SEO, this is one way that Google’s vaunted machinery can help the individuals that play by the rules stay safe from these marauders. Regardless of ethics and capitalist theory, playing fair would help in making the world a better place.

The South Korean Internet Anomaly

One of the most frustrating things about living in South Korea is using Korean websites. Aside from hideous, cluttered design that is difficult to navigate (OK, I’ll admit that’s subjective, but it makes me feel better to vent my frustration), most websites simply don’t work unless you view them in Internet Explorer.

Many websites require the installation of several active x controls specific to that website just to log in, and other websites simply do not display properly in Chrome or Firefox, rendering their content unreadable. This in turn causes the Korean population to continue to use Internet Explorer, since experimenting with other options hinders them in their daily lives, which in turn perpetuates the problem by allowing developers to continue to make websites the way they always have.

How did this trend begin?

Since most websites in the US don’t have a Korean language option, copy-cat companies have sprung up in Korea offering most major web-services to the Korean population. The end result is that Korean people tend to use only Korean websites and have little concept of what is standard in the western web, which has created this bizarre situation in which browsing the Internet in Korea is like entering a time machine  into the early 2000s in terms of web design and usability. The result: frustration.

For example, in order to log into my bank’s website, first I needed to install 4-5 active x controls with dubious names like “TouchEn Key Installer” (dear god that’s unnerving). One of the programs I was required to install seems to be a piece of antivirus software. How any website can get away with mandating its users use a specific piece of antivirus software, I have no idea. Because it’s always been the norm, and lack of other options?

Korean Search

Moveover, South Korea is one of the only wired countries in the world where Google does not have a dominate presence. Last time I checked, Google’s search engine market share was something abysmal like 2.5%. The leader? A Korean company called Naver. Now, my love for Google aside, is this necessarily a bad thing? In this case, a resounding “yes.”

In Naver, something absurd like 75% of the results are paid listings. Yes, if you find Google’s recent attempts to increase the number of ads on the page and camouflage them to look more like organic listings to be annoying, Naver is your worst nightmare: their search bot sucks at indexing the web, and most of the results you see are paying to be there. Brilliant from a business perspective, terrible for a user trying to find what they’re looking for.

And yet again, the state of the Korean Internet prevents users from switching. Years ago there was an issue with Korean websites not securing private data. As a result, Google’s bot was indexing it in their search engine, resulting in a scandal in the news. As opposed to simply protecting secure data, the solution in the Korean web design community seems to have been to block the Google spider altogether. This is even true for many Korean government websites. So yet again, if a Korean tries switching to Google, their experience suffers (not by fault of Google, but due to Korean websites themselves), and they’re likely to switch back to using what was always comfortable.

The Korean Internet: Moving Forward

As frustrating as the situation is at the moment, I’m hopeful moving forward. For one, the explosion of smartphones here means websites are going to have to change or get left behind. If their website is not viewable on the iOS and Android web browsers, users are going to resort to another service. Mobile websites are a must, and hopefully this will lead to active x controls and archaic HTML being a thing of the past. (The worst outcome here would be Korean websites requiring mobile users to install an app to view their content, which wouldn’t surprise me. That has, after all, been the status quo all this time).

The rise in mobile browsing also gives hope for Google capturing more search engine market share. Since Samsung is one of the main distributors of Android smartphones, and Google is the default search on Android devices, it gives me hope that more people will discover the benefit of un-biased, un-censored results. (Naver has been accused several times of filtering their search results). Matt Cutts even made a trip to Seoul a few months ago to speak with prominent companies and government officials about unblocking their websites so the Google spider can index their content.

And lastly, Facebook and twitter have really taken off in the past year or two. (Prior to that, Koreans used a service called Cyworld). This is the first time, to my knowledge, that a western web service has taken off in Korea, as opposed to Koreans using a copy-cat service from a Korean company. My hope is that this exposure to the western web will have ripple effects, exposing the pitfalls of using a biased search engine like Naver, as well as exposing Koreans to functional web-design and usable services. This will perhaps raise the bar for Korean websites, and maybe in time I’ll be able to access my bank’s website from my MacBook.

Or maybe I’m just being optimistic. It could be a long time before the Korean Internet catches up with the rest of the world. (It’s ironic for me to be saying that, since Korea is statistically the most wired country in the world). Only time will tell, and in the meantime, I’ll continue to mutter curses under my breath as I boot up Internet Explorer simply to order something online.

Baidu continues to grow

Investors.com reports:

According to various news reports citing Sina Technology News as the source, Apple might make Baidu the default search engine for all Apple devices that use its mobile operating system, or iOS, in China. Google (GOOG) is currently the default iOS search engine for Apple’s mobile products in the Chinese market. Baidu officials were unavailable to comment on the unconfirmed report. But, ThinkEquity analyst Henry Guo says it’s “highly likely” Baidu will become the default search engine on Apple’s Chinese version iOS as soon as next month.

Such a move by Apple would shore up Baidu’s dominant position in China, where it holds a roughly 80% share of the search engine market. During the three months ended Dec. 31, it was the largest website in China as measured by user traffic, according to a company filing with the SEC.

Source: http://news.investors.com/article/606383/201204021410/baidu-apple-mobile-search-deal-seen-likely.htm

Good for Baidu, good for Apple, bad for Google.

This in addition to Baidu signing an agreement with Facebook last year to create a social media website in China, it looks like they’re poised for big things this year.