Search Technology

I’m feeling lucky…
1 February 2007 in Google & Microsoft & Search Technology | Comments (3)

Just a quick post today.

  1. Visit www.google.com
  2. Type in “search”
  3. Click “I’m feeling lucky”

I wonder how long this will exist for? :)  

 - JD

Search: How to improve your site position, part I
24 July 2006 in Google & Search Technology | Comments (0)

Search Series

The challenge
Now that your site has been indexed and is appearing in search engine results you’re finding you are not rating very well. You might be the 10th result, the 20th or the last. You ideally want to be the #1 result for the search terms you deem as important to your organisation.

A solution?
You know a wee bit about how search engines work and think that perhaps you could manipulate your position with a few clever tricks. You know that search engines examine the words on the page and the meta tags. Two very common manipulation tactics that I’ve witnessed are:

  • Keyword Stuffing: This is where your title contains about 50 keywords, so does your description and keyword meta tags.
  • Invisible Text: This is where you place certain terms in your page but set the font colour to match the colour of the background, effectively making the text invisible. If you notice a large blank space at the bottom of pages and select that region you usually find this type of trick in use and see text gets selected.

What a lot of people who use these tricks don’t realise is that they are widely known about and the big three search engines can identify web pages using these techniques. When you’re identified as somebody who uses these tricks you’ll often find that your search position slowly slips because you’re getting penalised for trying to manipulate your position.

There are many other ways that people try to use to increase their position however these two seem to be the most common.

The real solution
The first thing to do is ensure that you are not utilising the techniques listed above. Following that, some ways to make your content work harder at getting you a good position are:

  • Use HTML elements for headings and important content. For example, rather than using <span class=”heading1″> around a heading use <h1>as search engines can identify these tags as meaning the content within them is a heading. This is important because normally the terms in a heading give a strong indication of what the content is about. So if you’re a hotel, having a heading with “The best hotel in Wellington” would result in those terms being weighted more highly than if they appeared in the general content of your site.
  • Ensure that the content on your website has a good rate of change. It’s not uncommon for search engines to penalise websites that never change their content or websites that change their content constantly. Having a policy to update 20% of your site content every six months is useful for ensuring your site feels fresh with web users as well as letting the search engines know your site is being updated.
  • Use meta tags intelligently. Each meta tag has a specific purpose so if you are setting the Description meta field don’t fill it with 500 keyword terms that are comma delimited. That isn’t a description, a description is a sentence or two about the page. You should ensure that you use the terms that are important to you that are relevant to that page in all fields however. In this example, our Hotel home page may have:
    • Title: hotel_name – The best hotel in Wellington, New Zealand
    • Description: Welcome to the website of hotel_name, the best hotel in Wellington.
    • Keywords: best, hotel, wellington, New Zealand, hotel_name, north island
      These are all just examples but it shows how the meta fields should be used. It is important to remember not to put too much content in your meta tags, they are supposed to be short.
  • Update your meta data. A common occurrence is that a content manager changes the body content of a webpage but forgets to update the meta data. This is especially important for Intranet search engines that place much more emphasis on meta tags.
  • Don’t use broken HTML. This point item isn’t the most important but you should make sure that your website contains valid HTML. While browsers and search indexers usually handle some broken HTML gracefully I have read several times that some search engines will penalise slightly if HTML isn’t valid (mostly because it doesn’t show much “care” in your website and if you do not care about your site why should others?)

There are many more ways to ensure that your content will work well with search engines which I will go into with future posts on the topic.

Always an exception to the rule
Wow, the second post and I’m already regretting using the word “Always” because the really isn’t an exception to this rule. You should never try and be “clever” in trying to change your search position. It never pays to try and fool the search engines. If you apply the tips listed here you should find that over time your search position closes in on that valuable #1 spot.

- JD

Search: How to get your site indexed faster
18 July 2006 in Google & Intergen & Search Technology | Comments (6)

Search Series

Over the next few weeks I’ll be posting about common challenges that people face with website search (both with public search engines like Google, and website search such as SharePoint search). If you have any questions about a topic or would like to see an entry about a specific challenge you have then please leave a comment :)

The challenge
It’s the usual story, somebody has spent a lot of money on a website and they want to start seeing a return on that investment as soon as possible. There is nothing wrong with that, I’d be concerned if I was building a website for somebody who doesn’t want to see a return. The challenges arise when a site goes live and it is expected that the site is indexed by the major search engines in a matter of minutes of that go-live. So how do we get a website indexed by search engines as quickly as possible?

A solution?
Back in the 1990′s it was common practice to need to submit your website to search engine for it to index you. Some started following links and automatically found sites however this was usually seen as not a priority compared to manually submitted sites. The view that this practice is still the best is strong with some and they see site submission as the best way of getting their site indexed fast.

These days it’s not uncommon to see sites offering to submit your site to more than 1000 search engines for a small fee of $500 or more. Some people would see that as value for money without realising it’s almost a complete waste of time.

The real solution
Modern search engines don’t prioritise on submitted sites. They don’t see them as valuable and for good reason – would you trust a website that was brand new or one that has been around for a significant period of time with many links to it? I’ve read many accounts (and see this in practice) where a site can be manually submitted to a search engine and not appear in search results for several weeks. Yet, when another website that is mildly popular links to that same site they’re in search results within days.

One way to get links to your site early is to allow a case study of the site development to be posted on the vendors website. I’ll go into more ways to help build your link collection legitimately in future search posts.

When considering the value of paying somebody to submit your website to hundreds of search engines, remember that 95% of your search result referrals will be coming from the big 3: Google, Yahoo, MSN Search. I would never advise on the use of such submission tools because, frankly, they’re a waste of time in terms of return on investment.

Always an exception to the rule
It is important to note that I’m not advocating never submitting yourself to an index manually. There are specific industry sites, directories and community sites that are related to your business and submitting to these sites is important for visibility within your industry sector. Automated tools won’t even know that these sites exist or that they’re more important to you than a mass spamming to various indexes around the world.

– JD

Search Technologies Seminar
15 March 2006 in Google & Search Technology | Comments (2)

I’ll be presenting next Wednesday in Auckland on the challenges of creating a great search experience on your website, and what you can do to make it better. This is a twilight seminar run by Intergen (where I work).

The session will cover topics such as:

  • Why you don’t want Google
  • How to improve the performance of your existing search
  • What benefits you can gain from having a great search
  • How to make your website more search engine friendly
  • What search tools are available (including free tools, search products, etc)

At the session we welcome comment and feedback from the audience on their search solutions and the problems they may have faced. The intention is to cover both searching within a site and information on how to make sites rank better with international search engines.

To register or for more information click here to go to the Intergen website.

- JD

Get your search position for terms
2 March 2006 in Google & Search Technology | Comments (0)

At the moment if you want to find out where you rank for certain terms you have to use tools that brute force check for a position. This isn’t a very nice way of doing the search and means you could be missing terms that are actually useful for you.

Google SiteMaps has recently been updated to display the search position of terms used to find your site. For example, I can see that for the “Consolas Font” I’m the 6th result – nice.

If you don’t already use Google SiteMaps you really should. It’s not the sexiest service (not like Google Analytics!) but it does provide some real information about your site. Most plug-in enabled products (like WordPress, what I use for my blog) have available plug-ins to get SiteMaps working in under five minutes.

- JD

Google Updates
11 February 2006 in Google & Search Technology | Comments (1)

Geek commented about updates to Gmail to provide integration with gTalk. You can now save your chat histories into Gmail with plans for the future to integrate a web based version of their chat client. I wonder how fat Gmail has to get before people start complaining about it being slow/confusing. Personally I’m happy with Meebo – I use that for chat, if I want email I’ll use Gmail.

Google Desktop Search
A new version of Google Desktop Search is out. New features include the ability to search across multiple machines, password protection and the ability to share the search with other users.

This is all good to see, it’s about time I tried GDS again and just checked out how well it is doing these days.

Big Daddy
On related Google news, Google is making a significant update to it’s search engine. The changes come under the code name “Big Daddy” and are significantly more than an algorithm update. The changes include data centre changes and crawler changes. For the first time yet, Google is allowing people to test the changes by detailing the IP addresses of Big Daddy enabled data centres. There has been considerable comment that the changes have made a big impact on the rankings.

You can test your website on Big Daddy with these IP addresses:

  • 66.249.93.104
  • 64.233.179.104
  • 216.239.51.104

Gmail
This is complete rumor, but from the looks of the javascript changes Gmail could soon provide email hosting for third party domain names (so you can have @yourdomain). This isn’t too interesting but I thought I’d throw a rumor out for the end of the week :-)
Gmail javascript snippit

Of course all the fanatic Google lovers out there expect this to be the “Exchange-killer”… *rolls eyes*. I think that’s enough Google for one post :)

- JD

Google gets tough
6 February 2006 in Search Technology | Comments (1)

BMW-Germany has just been knocked out the Google search results. According to Matt Cutt’s weblog (Google employee, great blog) they used deceptive practices in an attempt to get a better search ranking. They got snapped and now have had their website page-rank set to zero. Apparently ricoh.de is not far behind.

It will be interesting to see if Google continues to enforce their terms of service or if they will just make an example of a few big names.

What I find surprising about this is that surely BMW-Germany would have actually been positioned very highly without this sort of time wasting. Personally I don’t mind Google using some of it’s dominance to try and push people into better web practices.

- JD

Updated Google Analytics
3 February 2006 in Search Technology | Comments (0)

I’ve just noticed that today Google has updated their Analytics application to display a “Site Overlay”. This allows you to browse to any page of your website and it overlays data about the popularity of each hyperlink.

Clicking on a hyperlink displays how many times it has been click, what % that is of overall clicks etc. Something that you don’t really see until looking at some higher end (read: expensive) statistics tools. Very cool.

I’ll try and add a screenshot when I get back to Wellington this evening.

- JD

P.S. Anyone who isn’t using Google Analytics, you can request to be invited at http://www.google.co.nz/analytics/ It is certainly well worth it (in fact it’s free ;) )