Google to kill the power of links

Well, a few types of links will survive and don’t do evil in Google’s search index ;)    I’ve updated my first take on Google’s updated guidelines stating paid links and reciprocal links are evil. Well, regardless whether one likes or dislikes this policy, it’s already factored in - case closed by Google. There are so many ways to generate natural links …

The official call for paid-link reports is pretty much disliked across the boards:
Google is Now The Morality Police on the Internet
Google’s Ideal Webmaster: Snitch, Rake It In And Don’t Deliver
Other sites can hurt your ranking
Google’s Updated Webmaster Guidelines Addresses Linking Practices
Google clarifies its stance on links

More information, and discussion of paid/exchanged links in my pamphlets:
Matt Cutts and Adam Lasnik define “paid link”
Where is the precise definition of a paid link?
Full disclosure of paid links
Revise your linkage
Link monkey business is not worth a whoop
Is buying and selling links risky? (02/2006)



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Danny Sullivan did not strip for Matt Cutts

Nope, this is not recycled news. I’m not referring to Matt asking Danny to strip off his business suit, although the video is really funny. I want to comment on something Matt didn’t say recently, but promised to do soon (again).

Danny Sullivan stripped perfectly legit code from Search Engine Land because he was accused to be a spammer, although the CSS code in question is in no way deceitful.

StandardZilla slams poor Tamar just reporting a WebProWorld thread, but does an excellent job in explaining why image replacement is not search engine spam but a sound thing to do. Google’s recently updated guidelines need to tell more clearly that optimizing for particular user agents is not considered deceitful cloaking per se. This would prevent Danny from stripping (code) not for Matt or Google but for lurid assclowns producing canards.



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Blasting mount email

I’ve moved 5k emails, mostly unread, from my inbox to a “swamped” folder. I hope a couple of new filters will help avoiding such drastic measures in the future. So if I owe you an answer: I apologize, please resend your message. Thanks.



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Google enhances the quality guidelines

Maybe todays update of Google’s quality guidelines is the first phase of the Webmaster help system revamp project. I know there’s more to come, Google has great plans for the help center. So don’t miss out on the opportunity to tell Google’s Webmaster Central team what you’d like to have added or changed. Only 14 replies to this call for input is an evidence of incapacity, shame on the Webmasters community.

I haven’t had the time to write a full-blown review of the updates, so here are just a few remarks from a Webmaster’s perspective. Scroll down to Quality guidelines - specific guidelines to view the updates, that means click the links to the new (sometimes overlapping) detail pages.

As always, the guidelines outline best practices of Web development, refer to common sense, and don’t encourage over-interpretations (not that those are avoidable, nor utterly useless). Now providing Webmasters with more explanatory directives, detailed definitions and even examples in the “Don’ts” section is very much appreciated. Look at the over five years old first version of this document before you bitch ;)

Avoid hidden text or hidden links
The new help page on hidden text and links is descriptive and comes with examples, well done. What I miss is a hint with regard to CSS menus and other content which is hidden until the user performs a particular action. Google states “Text (such as excessive keywords) can be hidden in several ways, including […] Using CSS to hide text”. The same goes for links by the way. I wish they would add something in the lines of “… Using CSS to hide text in a way that a user can’t visualize it by a common action like moving the mouse over a pointer to a hidden element, or clicking a text link or descriptive widget or icon”. The hint at the bottom “If you do find hidden text or links on your site, either remove them or, if they are relevant for your site’s visitors, make them easily viewable” comes close to this but lacks an example.

Susan Moskwa from Google clarifies what one can hide with CSS, and what sorts of CSS hidden stuff is considered a violation of the guidelines, in the Google forum on June/11/2007:

If your intent in hiding text is to deceive the search engines, we frown on that; if your intent is purely to improve the visual user experience (e.g. by replacing some text with a fancier image of that same text), you don’t need to worry. Of course, as with many techniques, there are shades of gray between “this is clearly deceptive and wrong” and “this is perfectly acceptable”. Matt [Cutts] did say that hiding text moves you a step further towards the gray area. But if you’re running a perfectly legitimate site, you don’t need to worry about it. If, on the other hand, your site already exhibits a bunch of other semi-shady techniques, hidden text starts to look like one more item on that list. […] As the Guidelines say, focus on intent. If you’re using CSS techniques purely to improve your users’ experience and/or accessibility, you shouldn’t need to worry. One good way to keep it on the up-and-up (if you’re replacing text w/ images) is to make sure the text you’re hiding is being replaced by an image with the exact same text.

Don’t use cloaking or sneaky redirects
This sentence in bold red blinking uppercase letters should be pinned 5 pixels below the heading: “When examining […] your site to ensure your site adheres to our guidelines, consider the intent” (emphasis mine). There are so many perfectly legit ways to do the content presentation, that it is impossible to assign particular techniques to good versus bad intent, nor vice versa.

I think this page leads to misinterpretations. The major point of confusion is, that Google argues completely from a search engine’s perspective and dosn’t write for the targeted audience, that is Webmasters and Web developers. Instead of all the talk about users vs. search engines, it should distinguish plain user agents (crawlers, text browsers, JavaScript disabled …) from enhanced user agents (JS/AJAX enabled, installed and activated plug-ins …). Don’t get me wrong, this page gives the right advice, but the good advice is somewhat obfuscated in phrases like “Rather, you should consider visitors to your site who are unable to view these elements as well”.

For example “Serving a page of HTML text to search engines, while showing a page of images or Flash to users [is considered deceptive cloaking]” puts down a gazillion of legit sites which serve the same contents in different formats (and often under different URLs) depending on the ability of the current user agent to render particular stuff like Flash, and a bazillion of perfectly legit AJAX driven sites which provide crawlers and text browsers with a somewhat static structure of HTML pages, too.

“Serving different content to search engines than to users [is considered deceptive cloaking]” puts it better, because in reverse that reads “Feel free to serve identical contents under different URLs and in different formats to users and search engines. Just make sure that you accurately detect the capabilities of the user agent before you decide to alter a requested plain HTML page into a fancy conglomerate of flashing widgets with sound and other good vibrations, respectively vice versa”.

Don’t send automated queries to Google
This page doesn’t provide much more information than the paragraph on the main page, but there’s not that much to explain: don’t use WebPosition Gold™. Period.

Don’t load pages with irrelevant keywords
Tells why keyword stuffing is not a bright idea, nothing to note.

Don’t create multiple pages, subdomains, or domains with substantially duplicate content
This detail page is a must read. It starts with a to the point definition “Duplicate content generally refers to substantive blocks of content within or across domains that either completely match other content or are appreciably similar”, followed by a ton of good tips and valuable information. And fortunately it expresses that there’s no such thing as a general duplicate content penalty.

Don’t create pages that install viruses, trojans, or other badware
Describes Google’s service in partnership with StopBADware.org, highlighting the quickest procedure to get Google’s malware warning removed.

Avoid “doorway” pages created just for search engines, or other “cookie cutter” approaches such as affiliate programs with little or no original content
The info on doorway pages is just a paragraph on the “cloaking and sneaky redirect” page. I miss a few tips on how one can identify unintentional doorway pages created by just bad design, without any deceptive intent. Also, I think a few sentences on thin SERP-like pages would be helpful in this context.

“Little or no original content” targets thin affiliate sites, again doorway pages, auto-generated content, and scraped content. It becomes clear that Google does not love MFA sites.

If your site participates in an affiliate program, make sure that your site adds value. Provide unique and relevant content that gives users a reason to visit your site first
The link points to the “Little or no original content” page mentioned above.


“Buying links in order to improve a site’s ranking is in violation of Google’s webmaster guidelines and can negatively impact a site’s ranking in search results. […] Google works hard to ensure that it fully discounts links intended to manipulate search engine results, such link exchanges and purchased links.”

Basically that means: if you purchase a link, then make dead sure it’s castrated or Google will take away the ability to pass link love from the page (or even site) linking out for green. Or don’t get caught respectively denunciated by competitors (I doubt that’s a surefire tactic for the average Webmaster).

Note that in the second sentence quoted above Google states officially that link exchanges for the sole purpose of manipulating search engines are a waste of time and resources. That means reciprocal links of particular types nullify each other, and site links might have lost their power too. <speculation>Google may find it funny to increase the toolbar PageRank of pages involved in all sorts of link swap campaigns, but the real PageRank will remain untouched.</speculation>

There’s much confusion with regard to “paid link penalties”. To the best of my knowledge the link’s destination will not be penalized, but the paid link(s) will not (or no longer) increase its reputation, so that in case the link’s intention got reported or discovered ex-post its rankings may suffer. Penalizing the link buyer would not make much sense, and Googlers are known as pragmatic folks, hence I doubt there is such a penalty. <speculation>Possibly Google has a flag applied to known link purchasers (sites as well as webmasters), which –if it exists– might result in more scrupulous judgements of other optimization techniques.</speculation>

What I really like is that the Googlers in charge honestly tried to write for their audience, that is Webmasters and Web developers, not (only) search geeks. Hence the news is that Google really cares. Since the revamp is a funded project, I guess the few paragraphs where the guidelines are still mysterious (for the great unwashed), or even potentially misleading, will get an update soon. I can’t wait for the next phase of this project.

Vanessa Fox creates buzz at SMX today, so I’ll update this post when (if?) she blogs about the updates later on (update: Vanessa’s post). Perhaps Matt Cutts will comment the updated quality guidelines at the SMX conference today, look for Barry’s writeup at Search Engine Land, and SEO Roundtable as well as the Bruce Clay blog for coverage of the SMX Penalty Box Summit. Marketing Pilgrim covered this session too. This post at Search Engine Journal provides related info, and more quotes from Matt. Just one SMX tidbit: according to Matt they’re going to change the name of the re-inclusion request to something like a reconsideration request.



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Hassles of submitting a blogspot XML-sitemap

Usually my posts make it into Google’s Web index within 2-3 hours, but not yesterday. Since Ms. Googlebot became lazy fetching my pamphlets, I thought she needs a hint. With one of the last updates Blogger’s feed URLs have changed, but lazy as I am I’ve still the ancient ATOM feed in my sitemaps account. So I grabbed the new URL from the LINK element in HEAD and submitted it as sitemap. Bugger me. Not enough tea this morning. I didn’t look at the URL, just copied and pasted it, then submitted the feed to no avail. Oups. Here is why it didn’t work:

Blogger.com doesn’t come with build-in XML sitemaps, but one can use the feeds. That’s definitely not a perfect solution, because the feeds list only a few recent posts, but better than nothing.

Here are the standard feed URLS of a blogger blog at blogspot.com (replace “sebastianx” with your subdomain):
http://sebastianx.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default (ATOM, posts)
http://sebastianx.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default?alt=rss (RSS, posts)
http://sebastianx.blogspot.com/feeds/comments/default (ATOM, comments)

None of these can be used as a sitemap, because the post-URLs are not located under the sitemap path.

Fortunately, the old feeds still work, although they are served as “text/html” what can confuse things, so I’ve to stick with http://sebastianx.blogspot.com/atom.xml as “sitemap”.



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Google nofollow’s itself

Awesome. Nofollow-insane at its best. Check the source of Google’s Webmaster Blog. In HEAD you’ll find an insane meta tag:
<meta name=”ROBOTS” content=”NOINDEX,NOFOLLOW” />

Well, that’s one of many examples. Read the support forums. Another case of Google nofollow’ing herself: Google fun

Matt thought that all teams understood the syntax and semantics of rel-nofollow. It seems to me that’s not the case. I really can’t blame Googlers applying rel-nofollow or even nofollow/noindex meta tags to everything they get a hand on. It is not understandable. It’s not useable. It’s misleading. It’s confusing. It should get buried asap.

Hat tip to John (JLH’s post).

Update 1: A friendly Googler just told me that a Blogger glitch (pertaining only Google blogs) inserted the crawler-unfriendly meta element, it should be solved soon. I thought this bug was fixed months ago ... if page.isPrivate == true by mistake then insert “<meta content=’NOINDEX,NOFOLLOW’ name=’ROBOTS’ />” … (made up)

Update 2: The ‘noindex,nofollow’ robots meta tag is gone now, and the Webmaster Central Blog got a neat new logo:
Google Webmaster Central Blog - Offic'ial news on crawling and indexing sites for the Google index (I’d add ALT and TITLE text: alt="Google Webmaster Central Blog - Official news on crawling and indexing sites for the Google index" title="Official news on crawling and indexing sites for the Google index")



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Fraud from the desk of Sebastian Foss

Frequently I receive emails from very angry people complaining about various “SEO tools” and “Money Making Software” delivered from the desk of Sebastian Foss (AdBlaster, Instant Booster, eZine blaster, Blog Blaster, Feed Blaster, Newsgroup Blaster, eBay Cash Machine, Doorway Page Generator, Google Cash Machine, and countless more scams), which got their sites banned or which just didn’t work as promised, asking for a refund and demanding compensation. I’m sick of replying to all these emails to set the records straight, so here is the guy’s address:

e-trinity Internetmarketing Ltd.
Sebastian Foss
Böhler Str.14
Lindlar, 51789, North Rhine-Westphalia
Germany [map]
Phone: +49 2266 478 230
Fax: +49 2266 478 197
email: sebastian@etrinity-mail.com

I suffer from his fraudulent and spammy activities too. I find his URLs in my referrer stats, I receive his email spam from the desk of Sebastian Foss, and people get mad on me because they assume I’m him just because I blog about SEO and Internet marketing.

Here is the last email spam I got from Sebastian Foss1) at promote-biz.net:And here’s the attached HTML file:A smart investigator can should be capable to assign this URL on promote-biz.net to e-trinity Internetmarketing Ltd., Sebastian Foss’ company in Lindlar, Germany.

If you’re sick of spam and scams from the desk of Sebastian Foss too, then turn him in. Last time I looked, sending out email spam is a crime in Germany. In case the spam report form below (courtesy of the german cops) doesn’t work, here you go: Police Lindlar, Germany.
SPAM REPORT (yellow background = mandatory)

Your coordinates:






What to report?







Provide internet address (URL), IP address, channel, email-ID (email header), and other information useful to track down the issue:



Details (mandatory!)

Witnesses (if any, provide names and addresses)

Perpetrator and site of crime:






Here’s a tiny sample of domains related to or operated by Sebastian Foss, according to Rip Off Report “[one of] the biggest scam artist[s] on the Internet”:
10-thousand-dollars.biz 101-website-traffic.com 2click.com auction-machine.com automatedriches.com automatic-mailer.com blog-blast.com blog-blaster.com cashcreation.com clickedcash.com dollarbuddy.biz etrinity.com feed-blast.com free-traffic-handbook.com hit-booster.com hitworkz.com income-builder.com income-machine.com incomeuniversity.com instant-booster.com megapromoter.com megawealthpackage.com minuteprofits.com money-license.com moneybank.com plugin-income.com press-blast.com promote-biz.net promotionpalace.com sebastianfoss.com seo-secret.com submit-it-easy.com …

It doesn’t hurt to link to this post with “Sebastian Foss” in the anchor text ;)

Update: I received a threat from Sebastian Foss, so I’ve edited this post (look for original text followed by changes). I’m not 100% certain which instance of “Sebastian Foss” sends out the email spam, but all known instances of Sebastian Foss are obviously spammers. More Information on the spammer Sebastian Foss and his clones respectively multiple/virtual personalities.



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Help Google revealing the secret sauce!

Do you remember this Do’s & Don’ts page?

Google Information for Webmasters
Webmaster Dos and Don’ts
Do:

  • Create a site with content and design that are straightforward, appropriate and relevant for visitors to your site.
  • Feel free to exchange links with other sites that are compatible with your site’s content and users’ interests.
  • Be very careful about allowing an individual consultant or company to ‘optimize’ your web site. Chances are they will engage in some of our "Don’ts" and end up hurting your site.
  • Consider submitting your sites to our partner directories Yahoo! and DMOZ.

Don’t:

  • Cloak.
  • Write text or create links that can be seen by search engines but not by visitors to your site.
  • Participate in link exchanges for the sole purpose of increasing your ranking in search engines.
  • Send automated queries to Google in an attempt to monitor your site’s ranking.
  • Use programs that generate lots of generic doorway pages.

http://www.google.com/webmasters/dos.html five years ago (restored)

That’s Google’s Webmaster guidelines as per 2002, when the Webmaster’s section covered all topics on a dozen or so pages. In the meantime it was translated into many languages, and grew considerably. Todays Webmaster Help Center is an authoritative resource for experienced search geeks able to gather the tidbits various Googlers spread on the Web too.

That’s going to change. Ríona MacNamara from Google’s Webmaster Central team in Kirkland asks for ideas on How to revamp Google’s Webmaster Help Center:

We’re planning to restructure the Webmaster Tools Help Center to improve the way we organize and present help content. We want to make sure that our content is technically accurate, relevant, and up to date, and that it’s easy to navigate and find exactly what you’re looking for. Is the content broad enough in scope? Deep enough in detail? Does it have the right mix of instructional and conceptual info? […] Is the Help Center — well, helpful?

I hope that Google is willing to evolve the Webmasters Help Center to become a useful resource for spare time Webmasters, site owners, publishers, bloggers and other non-geeks, along with in-depth information addressing search geeks. Assuming in its current shape it’s meant to help out non-search-geeks, I must state that it hosts some of the worst FAQ items ever. The contents are certainly helpful if the reader has a great deal of Google specific knowledge, experience in reading Google-ish text, and knows what to read with a grain of salt because Google cannot tell the way the cookie crumbles to protect their secret sauce. Well, instead of reading rants, or bitching yourself, why not add your 0.02?

Click here to tell Google what you want and expect.

Please don’t get fooled by “Tools” in the thread title. The tools are nicely explained, what we want is the secret sauce dumped into the general help system ;)



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No search, more fun: Netscape spamming Google

Google dislikes crawlable SERPs. But Google still indexes huge chunks of SERPs, and to make it worse, these disliked URLs sometimes rank above other useless webspam from Amazon, Ebay, and cohorts on the very first search result page.

For example Netscape is still flooding Google’s search index with crap as per the quality guidelines, which clearly state:

Use robots.txt to prevent crawling of search results pages […] that don’t add much value for users coming from search engines.

Netscape.com lacks a robots.txt, but how many patterns does it need to identify these pages as SERPs? Next search.netscape.com has a robots.txt, but it lacks a Disallow: / directive, respectively Disallow’s of all their scripts generating search results.

Is it that simple to get gazillions of useless autogenerated pages ranking at Google? Indeed. Following the Netscape precedent every assclown out there can buy a SE-script, can crawl the Web for a bunch of niche keywords, and will earn free Google traffic just because he has “forgotten” to upload a proper robots.txt file and Google isn’t capable of detecting SERPs. I mean when they don’t run a few tests with Netscape-SERPs, where’s the point of an unenforced no-crawlable-SERPs policy?

I just found another interesting snippet in Google’s quality guidelines:

If a site doesn’t meet our quality guidelines, it may be blocked from the index.

I certainly will not miss 1,360,000 URLs from a spamming site ;)



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Follow-up: Erol’s patch fixing Google troubles

Erol developers test their first Google-patch for sites hosted on UNIX boxes. You can preview it here: x55.html. When you request the page with a search engine crawler identifier as user-agent name, the JavaScript code redirecting to the frameset erol.html#55×0&& gets replaced with a HTML comment explaining why human visitors are treated different from search engine spiders. The anatomy of this patch is described here, your feedback is welcome.

Erol told me they will be running tests on this site over the coming weeks, as they always do before going live with an update. So stay tuned for the release. When things run smoothly on UNIX hosts, a patch for Windows environments shall follow. On IIS the implementation is a bit trickier, because it needs changes of the server configuration. I’ll keep you updated.



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