All posts tagged ‘Google’

File Under: search

Google Tweaks Search Results to Punish Ad-Heavy Websites

Google has tweaked its search algorithm to punish websites with excessive advertising “above-the-fold,” that is, websites that stack the top of the page with nothing but advertisements.

According to Google, “rather than scrolling down the page past a slew of ads, users want to see content right away.” To help users get to that content, Google may drop ad-heavy websites from its search results.

Google says that the change will only affect about one in 100 searches, and emphasizes that websites using what Google’s Distinguished Engineer and SEO guru Matt Cutts calls “ads above-the-fold to a normal degree” will not be affected.

Instead the change is designed to punish sites that “go much further to load the top of the page with ads to an excessive degree or that make it hard to find the actual original content on the page.” In other words, if a site is so packed with ads that people can’t find what they’re looking for then Google isn’t going to send them to that site anymore.

While the distinction seems clear at first glance, digging deeper reveals some potential confusion for webmasters — for example, what role does screen size play? On a netbook, for instance, Google’s own search results page is almost entirely taken over by advertisements, not the actual search results (i.e., the content).

Google on a netbook screen: Ads are in red, search results in green

At small screen resolutions, Google’s own search results page is one of the worst offenders when it comes to advertising clutter obscuring content. That seeming hypocrisy may leave some webmasters wondering what constitutes “a normal degree of ads” and how screen size affects what is defined as “normal.” Sticking simply with what Google has written about the change, copying Google’s search results page is probably not a good idea in this case.

Cutts does encourage webmasters view their websites at different screen resolutions, suggesting that screen size does play a role, but unfortunately he doesn’t offer any details about what that role is or how it affects the algorithm’s new layout ranking scheme.

File Under: Web Services

Google Abandons Anonymous Accounts With New Signup Form

Google is experimenting with a new signup form that eliminates the ability to create anonymous accounts. The new form is part of an effort to expand the Google+ social network by automatically adding every new Google account to Google+. Because Google+ requires a name and gender the new signup form effectively eliminates the anonymous Google account.

The new account creation page can be found by following the links on Google’s homepage. As the Google Operating System blog points out, the older Google account page, which does not require signing up for Google+ or Gmail, is currently still accessible through Google Reader, Calendar and other Google services.

The revamped Google account creation page adds some additional fields to the sign up form, including name and gender which are both necessary for creating a Google+ account. There’s also a new agreement — turned on by default — granting Google permission to “use my account information to personalize +1s on content and ads on non-Google websites.”

In addition to the Google+ integration, signing up for a Google account now means getting a profile page and a Gmail account; gone are the days when you could use an outside email address with your Google account. It is still possible to go in and delete the Google+, Google profile and Gmail portions of your new Google account after it’s been created, but given that few people ever change their default settings it’s safe to assume that most people won’t.

It should come as no surprise that Google is working hard to get more users signed up for Google+, after all, despite marginal momentum, Google+ is far behind Facebook when it comes to signing up new users.

Photo: Anonymous9000/Flickr/CC.

Protest SOPA: Black Out Your Website the Google-Friendly Way

On Wednesday Jan. 18, Reddit, Wikipedia and many other websites will black out their content in protest of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) and the Online Protection and Enforcement of Digital Trade Act (OPEN). Organizers of the SOPA Strike are asking interested sites to black out their content for 12 hours and display a message encouraging users to contact their congressional representatives and urge them to oppose the legislation.

Although it was rumored that Google might join in the protest, that does not appear to be the case. The search giant does, however, have some advice for anyone who would like to black out their site and ensure that doing so doesn’t harm their Google search rank or indexed content. [Update: It appears Google will be participating in some fashion. A Google spokesperson tells Ars Technica that “tomorrow [Google] will be joining many other tech companies to highlight this issue on our U.S. home page.” WordPress and Scribd will also be participating. You can read the full story on Ars Technica.]

Writing on Google+, Google’s Pierre Far offers some practical tips in a post entitled, “Website Outages and Blackouts the Right Way.” The advice mirrors Google’s previous best practices for planned downtime, but warrants a closer look from anyone thinking of taking their site offline to protest the SOPA/PIPA/OPEN legislation.

Far’s main advice is to make sure that any URLs participating in the blackout return a HTTP 503 header. The 503 header will tell Google’s crawlers that your site is temporarily unavailable. That way your protest and blacked out website won’t affect your Google ranking nor will any protest content be indexed as part of your site. If you use Google’s Webmaster tools you will see crawler errors, but that’s what you want — your site to be unavailable, causing an error.

Implementing a 503 header page isn’t too difficult, though the details will vary according to which technologies power your site. If you’re using WordPress there’s a SOPA Blackout plugin available that can handle the blackout for you. It’s also pretty easy to create a 503 redirect at the server level. If you use Apache ensure that you have the Rewrite module installed and then add something like the following code to your root .htaccess file:

    RewriteRule .* /path/to/file/myerror503page.php

That will redirect your entire website to the 503 error page. Now just make sure that your myerror503page.php page returns a 503 error. Assuming you’re using PHP, something like this will do the trick:

    header('HTTP/1.1 503 Service Temporarily Unavailable');
    header('Retry-After: Thu, 19 Jan 2012 00:00:00 GMT');

For more details, be sure to read up on the HTTP 503 header and see the rest of Far’s Google+ post to learn how to handle robots.txt and a few things you should definitely not do (like change your robots.txt file to block Google for the day, which could mean Google will stay away for far more than just a day). Even if you aren’t planning to participate in the anti-SOPA blackout tomorrow, Far’s advice holds true any time you need to take some or all of your site offline — whether it’s routine server maintenance, rolling out an upgrade or as part of a political protest.

[Image by SOPAStrike.com]

File Under: search

Google Search Gets a Personalized ‘Plus’ Makeover

Personalized Google Search (image courtesy of Google)

Google has announced a new personalized search the company calls “Search, plus Your World.” The update turns the classic Google search results page from an anonymous collection of webpages into something more personal, mining your Google+ network for results related to you. Rather than just scouring the web for webpages related to your search queries, Google will also now find conversations and images posted by your friends.

Call it the “plusification” of Google Search, but, unlike the way Google has forced Plus into many of its services, on the search page it’s easy to toggle it on and off — now you have Plus results, now you don’t.

To see the new customized search results just log in to your Google account and head over to the secure version of Google’s search page. If you’re not seeing the options shown in the screenshot above be patient. Google says it will be rolling out custom search to users over the next few days.

It’s entirely possible to continue using Google’s search page without ever using any of the personalization features. Indeed there are probably many queries in which results from your social network friends would be irrelevant. Thankfully Google has made it easy to toggle the Plus features on and off, just click the respective icon to show and hide Plus results.

For example, say you want to find information about SOPA, the much-maligned Stop Online Piracy Act. Search Google for SOPA and click the personalize icon. If anyone in any of your Google+ circles has posted something about SOPA, their posts will appear in the search results. If any of your contacts have posted SOPA-related images to Picasa, those will show up as well. If you decide you don’t care what your friends think of SOPA, just click on the globe icon and the Plus results are gone.

In addition to the info drawn from your Google Plus circles, Google now includes profiles in search results, making it easier to find people. It also helps narrow the results to the particular person you’re looking for — search for John Smith and Google will return your friend John Smith, skipping the millions of other John Smiths in the world.

If you’re not seeing the new Google Search personalization features just yet, check out the video below from Google which shows the new features in action.

File Under: Browsers, search

Google Deranks Chrome Download Page Due to Spam Links

The Chrome download page has disappeared.

For the next 60 days Google searches for the words “browser,” “Chrome” or even “Chrome browser” will not include a link to the main Google Chrome download page. Google removed the Chrome download page from its search results after it discovered that one of its own sponsored post campaigns had violated its webmaster guidelines.

Because no one likes spammy links in Google search results — least of all Google — the company has penalized its own Chrome browser just like it would any other company using the same tactics. Searching Google for these terms will still bring up links that can eventually lead users to the Chrome download page, but there is no direct link (there are links to the Chrome beta download page in some results).

Search Engine Land’s Danny Sullivan discovered the suspicious links in Google’s search results and pointed out that they seem to violate Google’s webmaster guidelines, which prohibit “buying or selling links that pass PageRank.” All of the pages in question clearly stated that they were sponsored posts (created with Google’s implicit blessing as part of a campaign from Unruly Media) which means, according the Google’s webmaster guidelines, all the links should have been using rel=”nofollow”. Most did use nofollow, but one did not.

Matt Cutts, head of Google’s webspam team, responded to Sullivan’s article saying that the webspam team had manually demoted the Chrome downloads page:

We did find one sponsored post that linked to www.google.com/chrome in a way that flowed PageRank. Even though the intent of the campaign was to get people to watch videos — not link to Google — and even though we only found a single sponsored post that actually linked to Google’s Chrome page and passed PageRank, that’s still a violation of our quality guidelines, which you can find at http://support.google.com/webmasters/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=35769#3 .

In response, the webspam team has taken manual action to demote www.google.com/chrome for at least 60 days. After that, someone on the Chrome side can submit a reconsideration request documenting their clean-up just like any other company would. During the 60 days, the PageRank of www.google.com/chrome will also be lowered to reflect the fact that we also won’t trust outgoing links from that page.

While Google’s response may seem extreme, it’s not the first time the company has punished its own. Google previously banned BeatThatQuote (one of its own companies) over almost the same issue last year. And of course it also deranked JC Penny and Forbes for similarly shady tactics.

Clearly Google doesn’t have a double standard when it comes to violating its own guidelines, but, as Sullivan points out, that the company paid Unruly Media to run the ad campaign in the first place is troubling. “Google’s paying to produce a lot of garbage,” writes Sullivan, “the same type of garbage that its Panda Update was designed to penalize.”

The “Panda Update” involved tweaks to the way Google’s algorithms rank search results which heavily penalized co-called “content farms.” Google defines content farms as “sites with shallow or low-quality content.” In other words, sites just like the ones Google was paying Unruly Media to create.