All posts tagged ‘SEO’

File Under: search, Web Basics

Pull Your Site Out of the PageRank Gutter With Google’s ‘Disavow Links’

If your site has ever been, as Google’s Jonathan Simon charitably puts it on the Google Webmaster Tools blog, “caught up” in linkspam, Google has a new tool you can use to disavow those inbound links and clear your site’s name.

Google cautions that its new Disavow Links tool should be thought of as a last resort. It’s far better to get any spammy links actually removed from the web. In fact “the vast, vast majority of sites do not need to use this tool in any way,” writes Simon. But for situations where you can’t make the offending links go away — for example, with a client who might have made some bad SEO decisions in the past — Disavow Links offers a solution.

It’s worth noting though that Simon says that any links you disavow will be seen as “a strong suggestion rather than a directive — Google reserves the right to trust our own judgment for corner cases.”

Inbound links are perhaps the best known thing that Google uses to calculate PageRank and order search results. While PageRank is just one of more than 200 “signals” Google looks at to determine where your site will be in search results there’s no question that better inbound links mean your pages end up higher in search results.

There’s a flip side to inbound links though. If the wrong sort of sites point at your site it hurts your PageRank. If you’ve got inbound links from known paid link or other shady link-swapping schemes that violate Google’s guidelines, you can quickly find your site has disappeared from Google’s search index.

For more info on how the Disavow Links tool works, check out the video below from Google’s Matt Cutts. Also be sure to read through the FAQ over on the Google Webmaster Tools blog.

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.

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Search Engine Optimization Is Part of Good Web Design

One significant aspect of web design that we at Webmonkey often ignore is so-called “search engine optimization,” or the art of making sure Google and its brethren can find, crawl and index your websites.

Part of the reason we typically ignore SEO is that it’s an industry full of what Derek Powazek, who has worked at both Google’s Blogger and Technorati, and is a former Webmonkey contributor, recently called “scammers.” Indeed, black hat SEO outfits are responsible for creating billions of bad results for users — highly ranked sites that actually offer little more than advertisements and spam.

It’s too bad the SEO industry ended up this way, but with the rise of Google and the importance of PageRank, as Powazek puts it, “like the goat sacrificers and snake oil salesmen before them, a new breed of con man was born, the Search Engine Optimizer.”

Naturally Powazek’s rant against SEO raised the ire of folks like Danny Sullivan over at Search Engine Land — people that focus on optimizing sites for Google without resorting to black hat techniques.

Leaving the ranting aspects of Powazek’s post aside, you’ll find that he and Sullivan actually agree. They just use different terms to describe what they’re talking about. The real message of Powazek’s rant is not that SEO is wrong, but that you shouldn’t have to pay extra to get it.

SEO is actually just a subset of good web design. Powazek writes:

Good SEO techniques are just good web development techniques. They should be obvious to anyone who makes websites for a living. If they’re not obvious to you, and you make websites, you need to get informed. If you’re a client, make sure you hire an informed web develeper.

Powazek is actually echoing Google’s own advice, which says: “if you’re thinking about hiring an SEO, the earlier the better… that way, you and your SEO can ensure that your site is designed to be search engine-friendly from the bottom up.”

In other words, if you’re a web developer and SEO isn’t part of your toolset you’re doing your customers and yourself a disfavor.

So what if you aren’t familiar with the intricacies of optimising your site for search engine spiders? Well, perhaps the best place to start is with Google’s own recommendations for webmasters and there’s also the Webmaster Central Blog.

For the nostalgic, we also recommend checking out Powazek’s decade-plus missive on why he loves HTML tables right here on this site.