Web Search & Marketing Newsletter - May 2013
Welcome to the latest issue of our monthly newsletter, which covers news, tips and advice on effective website marketing techniques and trends.
In the first article this month we take a look at Google's changes to its search engine filters and algorithms since 2011, including how this may have had an impact on your website's rankings, plus what can be done to avoid any penalties. Next, we assess the importance of specifying to Google and Bing through the use of canonical links, which webpage takes precedence when there are duplicates and how to avoid the common mistakes when doing so. Finally, we look at the recent changes to the trademark policy for Google AdWords in Australia and the implications for brands and advertisers.
You can read more below, or you can also browse through previous editions of the newsletter, either by month or by subject. You can also follow us on Twitter for the latest developments during the month, or follow our Facebook page or Google+ page for updates.
On to this month's edition...
Google's Panda and Penguin Updates – Two Years On
Each year, Google changes its search engine's algorithm up to 500-600 times. While most of these changes are minor, every few months Google rolls out a "major" algorithmic update that affects search results in significant ways. In this article we evaluate how Google has continued to evolve the significant releases of their "Penguin" and "Panda" updates, how these changes caused some website's rankings to decline, and what can be done to prevent this from happening to yours.
On February 24th 2011, Google announced its first ever "Panda/Farmer Update", which was a ranking penalty that targeted poor website content (what it termed as "thin" or "not good enough"), or websites that used dubious content farms and ones with high ad-to-content ratio. Panda is a site-wide penalty, so that if enough pages are tagged as poor quality, the entire site is subject to it, (even though some good quality pages would continue to rank well). The only way to lose the penalty is to remove or improve the poor quality content. This major algorithm update hit some sites hard, affecting up to 12% of search results according to Google.
The Panda update had a series of subsequent changes over the following year and the "Penguin Update" (aka "Webspam Update") was released on April 24th 2012. That evaluated the incoming links to a site to determine if they involved link schemes that were solely intended to improve rankings. This was done by automatically raising flags by examining the ratio of links compared with those for competitors' sites, which then led to a manual investigation by Google. This impacted an estimated 3.1% of English-language search queries.
Subsequent updates were made to Penguin on May 25th and October 5th 2012 and the final release of Panda (#25) was on 14/4/2013. That filter is now going to become part of the core algorithm (Panda Everflux). This means that businesses of all sizes need to consider creating websites/pages with quality, relevant content that enhances the user's experience. Also, any links that are created to point to it need to be genuine ones, rather than just being developed in an attempt to improve rankings.
So the main outcome post-Penguin, is that businesses need to take care with link building techniques and, ideally, to start earning links through real relationships and useful content. This is not easy for many websites, but Google will reward those websites that follow the process of combining good quality webpage content together with genuine links to support its ranking performance, as these are the kind of sites that it deems will benefit its users' experience.
If you would like details about how we can help your website improve, rather than get penalised in the rankings, contact us now for more information.
Using Canonical Links and avoiding common mistakes
The use of 'canonical links' is a helpful tool for webmasters in cases where a website may have duplicated pages of content. The role of 'canonicalisation' allows website owners to tell Google and Bing which webpage is the one to give precedence when there are duplicates of that page on the site. However, there are some common mistakes that need to be avoided when doing this.
It's often a common occurrence for a site to have several pages listing the same information, or set of products if it's an ecommerce site. For example, one page might display products sorted in alphabetical order, while other pages display the same products listed by price or by rating. If Google knows that these pages have the same content, it may index only one version in the search results, or it may penalise the site for creating duplicate content pages.
Therefore website owners can specify a canonical page (the preferred version of a set of pages with highly similar content) to search engines by adding a 'link' element with the attribute rel="canonical" to the 'head' section of the non-canonical version of the page. Adding this link and attribute lets site owners identify sets of identical content and suggest to Google that of all these pages with identical content, this page is the most useful - therefore please prioritise it in search results.
The use of canonicalisation has to be done carefully however, as there are some common mistakes that can be made and it's important that it should only be used for pages that are duplicates.
These are the most important points to consider:
- Verify that most of the main text content of a duplicate page also appears in the canonical page.
- Check that rel=canonical is only specified once (if at all) and in the 'head' of the page.
- Check that rel=canonical points to an existent URL with good content (i.e., not a 404, or worse, a soft 404).
- Avoid specifying rel=canonical from landing or category pages to featured articles (as that will make the featured article the preferred URL in search results.)
If you would like to know more about how the use of canonical links can improve your website's indexing of duplicate pages with Google & Bing, contact us now.
Google changes the AdWords trademark policy in Australia
During April, Google made a significant change to the trademark policy for the AdWords advertising system in Australia, which was introduced on 23rd April and will have implications for advertisers and brands. The use of trademarked search terms by advertisers has often been a cause of complaint by the trademark owners, but Google has relaxed the previous restrictions in response to various legal challenges around the world.
Prior to this change, Australian companies who own trademarked brand or company names, could submit these details to Google and prevent any other advertiser bidding or using this term in their AdWords advertisements. This gave trademark owners a fair degree of control or protection in the way that their brands could be used or displayed in the sponsored ads within Google's search results. However, the new changes now mean that Google will not prevent use of trademarks as keywords, but trademark owners will still be able to complain about the use of their trademark in ad text.
Therefore, advertisers can now bid against competitor brand names, if they want to, but their adverts must not use the brand name, so as to appear that it may be misleading or 'passing off' as the original brand. However, ads can now be shown with related content that may try to attract the searcher to another businesses website. This change relates to China, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, and Brazil, which brings all these countries into line with the policy for the rest of the world, with Google saying that "a consistent policy and user experience worldwide benefits users, advertisers, and trademark owners alike".
As a company, or brand owner, you now need to be aware of competitors who may be bidding on your brand name and showing ads that try to attract business away from you. In return, you may now also bid on other company names or brands to do the same. This doesn't mean that it's a good thing to do, and can sometimes turn into a petty bidding game, but some advertisers may also be able to use it effectively. It can be aggravating to discover competitors are bidding on your brand names, but there is little that can be done about this now.
However, it's often the case that when searchers are specifically looking for a company or brand website, they will ignore the other listings or adverts - particularly if the ads can't include the brand name search query, and therefore look less relevant. This means that the advert clickthrough rate will be low, the Quality Score for the term will be low, and therefore competitors will need to bid at a higher level to retain ranking positions. All brands should regularly review how the search results are displayed for their own terms, and if necessary, bid on these terms as well to gain the highest ad position above the main organic results as well.
If your own AdWords campaigns has previously included competitor trademarked terms that had been blocked, these will now be displaying adverts again, so you should check what strategy you are using and how ads are being displayed for these terms.
You can find out more information about this policy change here, or you can contact us for a further discussion.
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We hope you've found this month's newsletter useful. Please contact us if you need any more information on the items covered, or our advice on any aspect of your website's performance. Also, if there are any issues you would like to see in future editions of this newsletter, please submit your suggestions to us.