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Senior Money Memos

OPTIMIZE YOUR WEB SITE
FOR THE NEW GOOGLE!

Added to site 14 August 2003

INTRODUCTION

A web site is now the most visible manifestation of a company. Many more potential customers will see the web site than will ever see a company representative or visit the company office. The virtual company presence contained in the web site is more "real" than the tangible company. Potential customers, particularly the more affluent, will be searching the Internet for potential suppliers. The company must be present there and be visible.

Potential purchasers may well look for potential suppliers using a search engine. Google currently provides the answers for more than 70% of keyword searches that are done on the Internet. Other search engines use similar methods of finding potential suppliers. It is important to be visible as Google is searching. If the potential purchaser finds a competitor first, then they may never find out what you might have done for them.

Over the last three months, Google has been making some sweeping changes in the way it operates. It now seems to be settling down and is producing very different results. It is essential to check that your web site is very visible to this New Google. This newsletter will give you the details on what is needed for the New Google.

HOW GOOGLE SEARCHES

Note: The following is a simplified account but illustrates correctly the way the process operates.

Google does not index web sites. Google maintains a database of individual web pages, with the content of each web page being indexed against keywords and key phrases. Each web page is treated independently.

Currently Google has more than 4 billion web pages indexed or catalogued in its database. Google has automatic robots called spiders that ceaselessly search for links to new web pages. When new pages are found, they are added to the database unless they are found to violate Google's Quality Guidelines. These Guidelines outlaw a number of bad practices, often described as search engine spamming. In general, these bad practices show web pages to the spiders in a format unlike that seen by a human visitor. The objective of such practices is to increase the ranking of these "spamming" web pages.

A key factor in Google's evaluation of a web page is what Google calls the PageRank. This is a measure of the importance of this web page as determined by the number of other web pages that link to this web page and the importance of these other web pages. PageRank is on a logarithmic scale from 0 to 10 and functions in a similar way to the scale used to measure Earthquakes. So a PageRank of 6 may be 10 times as important as a PageRank of 5. In turn, a PageRank of 5 may be 10 times as important as a PageRank of 4.

When a human searcher types in a keyword or a key phrase the computer goes through the following steps:

  • Selects all web pages that have the keyword or key phrase present in the text of the page.
  • Assigns a score to each of these web pages using an algorithm (a mathematical rule). This involves over 100 factors and is secret. Some of the factors are obvious - presence of the key word, frequency of occurrence of the keyword, where the keyword occurs in the Title and where in the text. Other factors are probably included such as freshness of the web page. The PageRank of the web page is an important factor in this score as are the PageRanks of other web pages which link to this web page. The text on these other pages that describes the link is also important in the score.
  • A list is prepared showing those web pages with the highest scores listed in descending order of the score.

The actual process is more complex than this and deals with that 4 billion web page database. Yet a search typically takes less than half a second.

DEVELOPING PROBLEMS FOR GOOGLE

Google has done a great many things right and is enormously popular. At the same time, when a web page is high in the Google listing, this can mean very large numbers of people will click on that web page and possibly buy what is on offer.

The economic values created by Google has generated a whole industry of search engine optimizers, who often guarantee to create high Google listings for web pages. Unfortunately their methods are often in violation of the Google Quality Guidelines.

With 4 billion web pages in its database, Google cannot rely on human intervention to weed out the bad actors. Google does seek inputs from searchers on web pages that may be in breach of the Quality Guidelines. Automatic filters must then be devised and applied to catch such web pages. Unfortunately the bad actors are enormously creative.

The installation of new automatic spam filters is believed to be what has been happening during the last 3 months of occasionally chaotic performance by Google. It would now seem that Google is close to getting its act together. We are now seeing a New Google, more comprehensive and with more relevant results. The next sections give more details on what has happened.

HOW IS GOOGLE NEW? - KNOWN FACTS

Google has the following new features. Not all of these have been put in place during the past 3 months but all represent changes from how Google used to perform.

Google now indexes a wide variety of file types (pdf, Postscript, RTF, Excel, Word, Powerpoint) as well as web pages. It includes entries in over 80 languages.

It has in place extra automatic filters to screen out web pages that violate the Quality Guidelines. Google is continually adding new web pages and files to its database. However during the month of July the Google database shrank since web pages were being filtered out at a faster rate than web sites were being added. SMM estimates that possibly 7% of all the web pages in the database at the start of July were cut out by the automatic spam filters during the month. This is very effective performance for these filters.

HOW IS GOOGLE NEW? - SPECULATION

Another feature of the New Google is that internal web pages seem to be gaining higher rankings when compared with the Home Page. A search for a particular key word often seems to bring up an internal page rather than the home page, even though both feature the same keyword.

A possible reason for this is that perhaps the PageRank is now given a slightly lower weighting in the ranking algorithm. Home pages typically have a higher Page Rank than internal pages. So in the past a Home Page, even without much text content, would appear higher in the search engine ranking list than an internal page. This reason is a matter of speculation. However the greater visibility of internal pages seems to be a reality, even if there is another reason for this. Web site development and optimization must be done in a way that takes this into account.

HOW TO OPTIMIZE YOUR WEB SITE

Optimizing a web site should not be thought of as just an exercise to get the highest search engine ranking possible. Search engines do not buy products and services. Human searchers do. So the web site should be optimized in terms of selling effectiveness. Search engine rankings are only a part of this.

The optimization factors for selling effectiveness for a given web page include the following:

  • Relevant keywords optimized within the web page
  • Authoritative backlinks from other sites that include the keywords in their titles or associated text
  • A good description within a Search Engine Report that encourages searchers to go to the link
  • A web page structure that easily sets visitors off along a path to eventual purchase
  • A total web site architecture that easily allows visitors to move to eventual purchase

These factors apply to all search engines. However the New Google may bring searchers to any of the web site pages. This has a major impact on the appropriate web site architecture. This is discussed in the next section.

WEB SITE ARCHITECTURE FOR THE OLD GOOGLE

Many web sites are designed almost as electronic sales brochures. Such a web site has a Table of Contents on its opening web page. It is assumed that visitors will enter by this front door, see the Table of Contents and navigate their way around.

This architecture used to work well on Google. The home page with its naturally higher PageRank would usually be the web page that would appear in a Google search engine report, even if an internal page might have ranked higher on a pure word count of the keyword. So Google would bring you in by the "front door".

This approach undervalues the possibility of a web site as a collection of descriptions of different aspects of the company. Just as the mind can jump from one idea to a related idea, the web site has this possible functionality. It is like a series of synaptic circuits in our brains. However the traditional web site architecture does not do enough to make jumping around from one idea to another easy.

WEB SITE ARCHITECTURE FOR THE NEW GOOGLE

Search engines treat web pages as individual entities. The Search Engine never sees the totality of all the web pages that constitute a web site. In consequence, a keyword search may suggest any one of the "internal" web pages as being the most appropriate.

To work well in this environment, the web site must have a series of landing pages or "front doors". No page that can be easily pointed at by a Search Engine must have the appearance of a "back door" to the website. Rather the visitor must feel that the way he or she entered is the most natural way to enter this web site. The traditional web site architecture looked like a tree, although there were sometimes ways of leaping directly from one branch to another. The best picture of a new style web site architecture would be a necklace of web pages, with additional links from each web page to all other web pages.

A particular difficulty occurs with all these other types of files that Google is indexing. The problem can be illustrated for one of these but applies to all. Some web sites include Adobe Acrobat (pdf) files to provide a printer-compatible version of a web page. In addition to the irritating wait while the application that can display the file opens, it can be very difficult for the visitor to back-track and return to a prior web page. The safest and most simple advice is to ensure that all such files open in a new window. Without some such approach, the visitor may find there is no way to return to the point of departure.

The web site should have no back doors and visitors should not involuntarily find themselves deposited "outside" with no way to get back in. Creating such a web site is a task that must be done with great attention to detail to be successful. Remember that a visitor to your web site has got there because they have some interest in what you are selling. They are like gold. You do not want to lose them through some silly navigational problem that could have been corrected with a little careful thought.

TESTING FOR USABILITY

The New Google has added some additional hurdles to making web sites user friendly. There are now more ways that visitors may enter web sites and more ways they may get lost. So the testing by real life users is even more important. It is essential that this be done by "outsiders" so that the test mimics real life. To get representative results for all potential visitors would require a larger panel of test individuals than most organizations are willing to fund. Nevertheless a good test must be done with at least three "outsiders". This is sufficient to spot the gross problems (where all three have the same problem) and to raise questions on other issues (where only one or two have problems).

CONCLUSION

The dramatic changes in Google over the past 3 months should encourage a review of how your web site is performing. It should be your most important selling force. If not, you may be leaving the playing field to the competition. The significant changes in Google will amply reward good web site architecture and strong keyword optimization. Provided the web site then handles visitors in a sales effective manner then the ROI (return on investment) on your e-marketing efforts will eclipse any other selling initiatives.

Postnote

Although this newsletter was written in August 2003, a great deal of it is still relevant while some further improvements in the Google algorithm have been seen. If you wish to be sure that you will be a winner, contact SMM to ensure your website delivers more customers in this always evolving Google age.

Our help can be configured to meet exactly the needs you have. Our strengths, experience, creativity and practical common sense can complement those of your company. So write us a Message today on what you're looking for without obligation.

Barry Welford

Added to site 14 August 2003

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