Are the lights shining a little less brightly around the Googleplex after last week’s bit of a fiasco; what with the untimely revelation of their Q3/2012 results and the disappointing tale contained therein for the financial analysts?
Allied to that event, the fact that the US Federal Trade Comission is seriously considering suing Google for (allegedly) ‘doctoring’ its search rankings isn’t helpful. Also the European Commission is getting in on the act and is girding-its-loins to challenge The ‘G’ for radical changes to the way that Google presents search results. So at the same time as Google finds itself under pressure on several different financial/business integrity fronts, around the SEO parish it’s hard to find many with a good word to say for them at the mo’!
Which is a bit of a crock really, because there was no SEO before Google and many of the disaffected have been making a decent living out of online marketing businesses predicated on allegedly understanding the Google algorithm.
From a personal standpoint, we first set-up our own web design business in April 2000 at which time, along with most of the planet, we’d never heard of Google nor had any particular interest in search. But we quickly became aware of The ‘G’ and we’ve run along a parallel but distant track for the subsequent 12 years … although a few billions light in terms of turnover, to be sure.
And in all that time we’ve been a fairly consistent cheerleader for The ‘G’ although there’s certainly been some bumps along the road. But just recently it’s been a bit of a trial being a torch-bearer for Google whilst keeping abreast of a menagerie of Panda & Penguin algorithm changes whilst still managing to retain any of the old enthusiasms.
What is particularly interesting us at the moment is the story within a story that underscores the $22bn collapse in Google’s market value last week. This high-priest of the hi-tec for the last decade or so, is coming under severe financial pressure due to a major shift away from the use of a desk-top computer as the primary ‘browsing’ device. You only have to look around any watering-hole you stumble in to and everbody in sight is waving around a ‘smart phone’ or ‘tablet’ of some description.
Obviously Google’s biggest revenue earner is its Adwords (PPC) programme; created in the days when everybody was looking to have the biggest PC screen in the room and The ‘G’ therefore had room to plaster their Ads all over the Oche.
Now according to Ofcom “Two fifths of UK adults now own a smartphone, with the same proportion saying their ‘phone is the most important device for accessing the internet” but with a typical screen size being:
it doesn’t give The ‘G’ much room to display their Ads and, anyway, there’s already ample evidence that people using ‘smart’ devices are less inclined to make a traditional online purchase via the smaller-screened device. There’s also evidence that people are quite ready to move away from their traditional searching habits by moving to dedicated ‘apps’ instead, which means the The ‘G’ doesn’t get a look in!
We had personal experience of just such a scenario recently when we tripped-up to Fleetwood, Lancs to follow The Cobblers the other week: we habitually end up under the Golden Arches for a pre-match snackeroonie and on this occasion my fellow-traveller downloaded the McDonald’s ‘app’ directly to his iphone en route to find our nearest Mac-a-Dee. Job done!
So there’s sure lots going on at the moment that might eventually cause a dimming of Google’s lights … whether it’s any one of the foregoing items in isolation or a combination of all of them, we’re no wiser than anybody else.
But we end this post on a quotation attributed to 1960s British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan; when asked what a politician such as himself most feared, he is said to have replied: “Events, dear boy, events!” … and that may also be the undoing of the boys from Mountain View, CA!
For completeness, a timely general review of how much Google’s ‘on-screen’ presentation of its Top 10 search results has changed over the last couple of years: how it effects clients/users/customers and companies who are engaged in, advise on, and claim to ‘know’ about SEO/PPC.
In the beginning …. Google’s mission was “to organise the world’s info” and to that end they just did it and presented their (free/organic) Top 10 list of search results for any given search keyphrase on a simple, ‘uncluttered’ white background - many loved them for that. In terms of ‘on-page’ display/presentation, dependent on individual screen settings, it was typical to see most of the Top 10 results above the fold (ATF) on-screen in those days. Then came the ‘claim-jumpers’ … as the ‘infant’ SEO industry formed and jockeyed to try to grab those ‘uncluttered’ Top 10 spots with various White Hat and/or Black Hat techniques: many were content at that but just as many were ‘miffed’ because their website didn’t feature in the Top 10.
Google itself introduced the first little bit of on-page ’clutter’ with the introduction of its (paid for) Adwords programme. But even then ’on-page’ demarcation lines were pretty well drawn: paid for/sponsored results on the far right of the page … free/organic results on the left. Then the first seeds of confusion were sown as Google decided to promote up to three of the paid for/sponsored results to the top of the page … immediately just above free/organic results and the free/organic results were pushed further down the page: many people didn’t even notice, the Adwords supporters were content but many in the SEO community were ‘miffed’.
Then came major ‘clutter’ to the on-page real estate with the introduction of Google Local (later called Google Places then +) where Google added free local listings (allied to their Google Maps product) that were strategically placed immediately below their three top of the page Ads, but just above free/organic results and further seeds of confusion were sown as the free/organic results were pushed further down the page to the point that ATF, free/organic results would be rare.
Subsequently, Google repositioned their sponsored adds away from the ’right-hand-side’ and moved them significantly to the ‘left’ so as to ‘butt-up’ almost next to the free/organic results. Google also added an option to Adwords users to ‘enhance’ their sponsored links by adding Site Links to their Ads … the nett effect of which is to push the free/organic results even further down the page, where even the No. 1 ‘organic’ result would be below the fold (BTF).
Another Google search enhancement that had predictable impact, particularly on the SEO community, has been Google Suggest … that, in effect, pre-empted many searchers, carrying out individual searching at all, as they let themselves be influenced by ‘suggest’.
In the meanwhile, Google introduced blended/universal search results …. and ‘personalised’ search results …. including images, locations, business listings, videos, news.
And, of course, Google wasn’t alone in driving change in search: the new Social Media innovations like Twitter, FaceBook, YouTube et al, with dynamic ‘real-time’ updates took centre stage and Google had to respond. Along the way … it was becoming more of a challenge for the SEO community to know what was going on, as there was no longer a ‘single’ view as to exactly what results were being displayed to their core audience.
More recently, in April/May 2010, there was Google’s roll-out of its Caffeine index update and soon afterwards its complete overhaul of its Home Page ‘look-and-feel’ with ’usability’ improvements that they claim are a natural progression to provide a much richer end user experience – you may or may not agree with that statement! Users can select from the ’pick-n-mix’ menu of presentational styles (some of which are listed below) that suits their individual preferences … but all in all, compared to the ‘uncluttered’ point from where we started, some may take the view that it’s an awful lot of ’clutter’.
For whose benefit was all this being done? For Google’s of course! Google’s Q2/2010 revenues of $6.82bn for the quarter tells its own tale. The sure-fire winner is Google’s Adwords programme and those involved in PPC which now pretty well dominates the ATF ‘on-page’ real estate, but not much sunlight there for the SEO community.
But reflecting on all the foregoing, is all this ‘clutter’ signalling the end for the SEO community? We don’t think so. It’s a ‘game-changer’ for sure … and presents a ’different’ set of challenges, that’s all. There’s a slew of evidence (source: The Info-Tech Group) that even in these ‘different’ times, by undertaking SEO you are 6 times more likely to increase the ‘stickiness’ of your website and by achieving high ‘organic’ rankings on key search terms, you bring a lot of value to your brand. In a survey of 95 IT companies, The Info-Tech Group found that 100% of companies that pursued a very high amount of SEO saw their brand gain value.
Although undoubtedly ‘different’ in these days of Social Media et al., the business model for ‘search’ is still pretty much the same as ever: get the right online marketing mix of PPC and SEO and you’ll do well. Win by doing!
This Easter-break period of (soi disant ) nothing-much-happening … finds the Interweb awash with teasing tales of Google’s will-she-won’t-she much-trailed Caffeine roll-out finally arriving! Some of the men-who-claim-to-know are coming out of their bunkers and proclaiming it to be de facto happening.
As always, Google’s SEO panjandrum Matt Cutts gets a name-check in here too (well he would ) with reference being made to a statement he’d previously made about Caffeine happening on April 1 … now being edited to read, ” … things are on track though, and we expect to roll out Caffeine to all data centers in the coming weeks/months“.
Cutts had also said previously, “The Caffeine update isn’t about making some UI changes here or there … (it’s) … a next-generation architecture for Google’s web search. It’s the first step in a process that will let us push the envelope on size, indexing speed, accuracy, comprehensiveness and other dimensions. The new infrastructure sits ‘under-the-hood’ of Google’s search engine, which means that most users won’t notice a difference in search results.”
Well that may indeed end up being the case, but back then, it appeared to us … that statement had sounded a teensy-weensy bit like something designed so as not to scare the horses … you know like they did way back when their unannounced, infamous Florida update blew away almost everybody in SERPs: talk about SEO ending up in Hurricane Country!
But there’s no doubt something’s going on at the Big ‘G’ at the moment (# see update 9th April below): rumours usually start to emerge from West Coast USA and sweep eastwards … here’s some snippets from the forums:
There was also something we noted yesterday that’s reflected in this forum note: “ Ooh! Anyone else seeing lots of snippets being URl only even though there is a web page there? The #1 ranking for one of my terms just went URl only (very weird seeing URl only ranking #1!) but that site has ranked at #1 for nearly 2 years — bet they are wetting themselves tonight seeing themselves listed URl only despite not having change their page or allows! Glitch or indication? ”
We saw this happening throughout the day on 1st April for many sites in our own keyphrase tracking regime, but we weren’t sure whether it was the boys at The Chocolate Factory having an April Fool’s Day gag … ‘cos at the same time they were showing their speed-of-results returned as not in ‘secs‘ as usual but at ‘warp-speed’. You know how those Mountain View Googler’s enjoy a bit of a wheeze!
So what do we know? Make a long-term investment in your website: use keywords and semantic keyphrases appropriate to your market segment, acquire themed links to improve link popularity and write content aimed at human readers … it’s that easy. But it does take time: if you’re setting out to gain Google Top 10 position … it may take a while: incremental growth is the name of the organic game.
As far as real Caffeine-is-here-evidence goes … we have very little, in truth. But sharing what little we do have may be helpful: there’s certainly been evidence of recent Googlebot hyper-activity. Like, on average we get 8 x Googlebot visits per day (historically) and we can report a significant upsurge in Googlebot visits in January & February 2010 to the level of 18 per day on average: but it’s now returned back to the typical average. So that may indeed be evidence that ‘G’ was girding up its loins earlier this year for a Caffeine/Kaffein roll-out in April?
By the way, the name-change to Kaffein, isn’t another April Fool … it’s (allegedly) Google’s reaction to some complaint about their choice of the word Caffeine and that being offensive to some ( you couldn’t make that up now – could you?).
So watch this space and when we’ve got something more to report … then *report it we will!
# memo 9th April 2010: it now appears that at least one of the ‘somethings‘ that was going on over Easter weekend … was the roll-out of a Google Tool Bar Page Rank (TBPR) update! That’s not to say that they weren’t also Kaffein-ing at the same time: just that we’re more confident in reporting the Easter TBPR update, in that we know what they look like.
* memo 23rd April 2010: extract from an updated WebmasterWorld thread from Senior member, ‘whitenight’ said:
For the UNOFFICIAL record, I’m calling Caffeine UNOFFICIALLY launched.
** It’s on 80% of all DCs.
The remaining 20% have been getting Caff datasets flickering for the past 24-48 hours.
The “old” SERPs and Algo are now the minority.
** At the time, I couldn’t be bothered to post and then argue with the masses,
but the INFRASTRUCTURE (NOT datasets) has been fully live and operational for ALL DCs for about a week and half now.
since testing the INFRASTRUCTURE is far more complicated than observing datasets, you’ll forgive me if i don’t give any practical examples… other than pointing out i’ve given past examples of how ANYONE can do this on their own in the earliest Caff threads.
Every time you fill in one of those web forms with their ‘anti-spam’ CAPTCHA code, you know – that fiddly combination of alpha numeric characters that’s usually so hard to read: you’re actually paying tribute to one of the UK’s great mathematicians and computer pioneers, Alan Turing (yes we know it would be easier to prounounce if he had an ‘n’ in his surname and was called Turning - but we are where we are). By the way, CAPTCHA is the acronym for Completely Automated Public Turing [test to tell] Computers [and] Humans Apart – so now you know.
Anyways, whilst Alan is long gone (died 1954 in somewhat ‘disputed’ circs) he is remembered around the parish for lots of different reasons: he was one of the Bletchley Park code breakers in the 1940s and later had a distinguished University career in Manchester. I knew of him a little through his CAPTCHA work but when I went to watch Man City -v- Newcastle Utd at Eastlands last season I found myself traversing the Alan Turing Way, just by the new stadium.
So I studied a little more about the man and his work: if you want to know more click on the banner advert above to visit that website or alternatively just Google him to find out lots more. Whilst there’s little doubt that WW2 was one of the most perilous periods in our recent history, when Turing’s mathematical genuis helped create the Enigma code breaker, I suspect that he would have been just as at home in the present WWW world, where the all pervasive Internet is driven by mathematical algorithms.
Don’t know if it’s fitting legacy or not (probably not) that his name just lives on in Manchester at the sporting environs of Eastlands Stadium and a memorial to him in the form of a bronze statue sitting on a bench in Sackville Park, Manchester – or alternatively in the ‘T’ of CAPTCHA, although obviously not enough people know about it: maybe the publicity fightback starts here, in this small contribution.
Not being a great ‘ideas’ man myself it’s never actually happened to me - but it must be really annoying when you develop something that you think is the bees-knees, you’re positive that it’s a real winner but then it doesn’t really ‘catch the wave’! How disappointing must that be? And then, maybe when you’ve just about given up hope, something else becomes hugely popular and almost by accident, your ‘killer application’ is a perfect-fit, it comes of age and takes off big-time.
IMHO such is the current role of the URL shortening companies: if you’ve never heard of URL shortening/condensing, then you’ll need to be aware that these companies developed an application that took really long ugly URLs and hugely reduced them in length-size. They’ve been around for a while (TinyURL for example has been around since 2002) but there was never that much of a compelling interest in their services but then … along comes the current social media behemoth Twitter with its twit-posting service that’s predicated on limiting the number of characters in every post to 140 characters.
So there you have it – a massively popular posting service where character saving isn’t just a ‘nice-to-have’ but it’s an absolute must that’s suddenly found it’s place in the market. Twitter have aligned themselves with TinyURL as their default solution but there’s loads of others out there and who knows which is the best to use, when so many are offered and new ones seem to appear each day? Well look no further! That much read Internet icon Danny Sullivan has posted a detailed analysis after reviewing various services and how they stacked up in a variety of features and you can read it all here (for reference I’ve shown the long and short URLs).
In terms of what’s the best URL shortening service to follow, I’ll add no further commentary to what Danny’s written apart from to give personal added focus to the passage he writes on Stability. If you want the ‘little URL’ in your Tweet-post to live on, there’s little point in aligning yourself to a ‘shoestring’ company that’s not going to give adequate support because as Danny says, “Nothing is more annoying than tweeting a link using a URL shortener and then having people tweet back at you that the link isn’t working, because the URL shortening service has gone down.” … or if the service just suddenly shuts down for whatever reason and all your links are ‘toast’!
Ultimately, you’ll make your own individual choices and Danny’s review is fantastically helpful in that regard. There’s little doubt that TinyURL has got the wind in its sails at the moment, although personally I’m a devotee of the newer service Bit.ly.
So URL shortening has at last Twittered to its place in the sun – well done to the innovators for holding on: rewarded at last!