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Web Search & Marketing Newsletter - December 2012

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 discuss Google's recent response to the "disavow links" feature for the Bing Webmaster tools that was released earlier this year, and why business website owners should be equally familiar with this new Google version. Next, we examine Google's recent announcement of the EMD Update - a new filter that tries to ensure that low-quality sites don't rise high in Google's search results simply because they have search terms in their domain names.

In the final article this month, we take a look at how Google has recently been sued for $208,000 (USD) in a landmark defamation case in Australia, as a judge compared their search results to that of an online publisher.

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 for updates.

On to this month's edition...

Google launches its version of the "Disavow Links" tool

Further to our previous article in September 2012, which announced the introduction of a "disavow links" feature in Bing's Webmaster Center, this month we review Google's recent release of their own much-anticipated version of this tool. As with Bing's tool, this feature allows webmasters to protect their sites from malicious link building that could result in their website's rankings being penalised on the Google search engine.

Google has recently been increasing its focus on targeting bad links, which has consequently affected some business website rankings. The new "disavow links" tool is therefore designed for those websites that have been impacted by Google's 'Penguin' Update, which in particular impacted those websites that may have purchased links or gained them through spamming.

Following the Penguin Update, there was a sense of panic from some SEOs and publishers who wanted a way to ensure that they could discount bad links and start afresh. Others worried that people might point bad links at their sites in an attempt to harm them with "negative SEO". The situation was compounded when Google released a new set of link warnings that didn't clarify if publishers really had a problem they needed to fix, or not.

By counting 'bad links' as negative votes against a website, Google has now enabled website owners to try to avoid the negative impact on their site via this new tool, which can accessed through the Webmaster Tools service. It should mainly be used in response to a warning from Google about 'unnatural links' pointing to a webste and it therefore enables the person responsible for a business's website indexing to tell the Google search engine that their site shouldn't be associated with un-trusted links pointing to it from nominated external websites.

However, this tool should be used with extreme caution, as the incorrect use of it could result in a decrease in a website's genuine rankings. Website publishers should therefore first try to remove links they are concerned about pointing at their site by first working with site owners hosting the links or with companies they may have purchased links through. Google's blog states that: "in general, Google works hard to prevent other webmasters from being able to harm your ranking. However, if you're worried that some back links might be affecting your site's reputation, you can use the Disavow Links tool to indicate to Google that those links should be ignored".

If you'd like to know more about how Google's "Disavow Links" tool may benefit your website's rankings, you can read more here, or contact us now for more information.


Google introduces an Exact Match Domain filter

In another addition to Google's enhancements of its ranking algorithm filters - Panda and Penguin - it recently introduced a new "EMD" filter. This should be of interest to SEO marketers and webmasters, as it can also affect the way in which their website may rank.

The 'Panda' update filtered sites that are deemed to have too much poor or duplicate quality, while the 'Penguin' update was designed to catch those that are thought to be spamming its search results, particularly through links or 'over-optimisation'. "EMD" stands for "Exact Match Domains", which are domains that exactly match the search terms for which they hope to be found and are generally bought and developed by businesses that are focused on rankings for a particular term. This filter tries to ensure that low-quality sites don't rise high in Google's search results simply because they have search terms in their domain names.

Google emphasises that all EMD domains aren't being targeted, just EMD domains with 'bad content'. Similar to those other filters, Google says EMD will be updated on a periodic basis. Those hit by it may escape the next EMD update, while others not hit this time could get caught up in the future.

If a website hasn't had its rankings reduced by Panda or Penguin before and the domain name was bought just in the hope of an "exact match" ranking success, then its rankings will probably be affected by the EMD filter, so its potential effects are well-worth being aware about.

Google admits that there's a small degree of boost to sites for having search terms in their domains with Google, but in general, it's just a very small degree. So the potential benefits of gaining increased rankings through this type of exact match domain-naming strategy are out-weighed by potential decreases, particularly if the site's content is bad quality.

Contact us now for more information about these Google filters and how they can affect the rankings for your website.


Google is sued for $208,000 (USD) in a defamation case in Australia

In an interesting legal case in Australia recently, a jury in the supreme court of Victoria ruled that Google is liable for defamation because its search results connected the plaintiff, 62-year-old Milorad Trkulja, to phrases such as "Melbourne crime" and showed his photo near images of suspected members of Melbourne's organised crime scene. The ruling can have wider consequences for the role of search engines and the results they display.

The plaintiff had used Google's search quality form to have content from other websites removed from its search index, but failed to provide the URL of the content to which he was objecting. Due to that, the Victorian jury ruled Google was not liable for its web search results, but guilty of defamation because of its image search results, which remained unchanged after the plaintiff's request. The jury found that Google should have removed those results when it received Trkulja's complaint.

It's a complicated and unusual case that resulted in Google being ordered to pay the equivalent of $208,000 (USD). Trkulja had previously won a similar case against Yahoo, which was ordered to pay about $225,000 (USD) in damages.

Google is examining the original jury verdict and may file an appeal as it disagrees with the Judge's comparison to it as an online publisher. A Google spokesperson said: "Google's search results are a reflection of the content and information that is available on the web. The sites in Google's search results are controlled by those sites' webmasters, not by Google" .

Whether or not an appeal is filed and Google prevails with a favourable outcome remains to be seen. However, the potential ramifications of this ruling place more emphasis on Google and other search engines to police their search results, or at least to have a policy to respond to complaints about the way search results are displayed.

If you'd like to know more about how the search or image results on Google can affect you, or your business, contact us now for more information.



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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.