We're back from SES Milan!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

We're back from SES Milan!...with a couple of clarifications.

Ciao everybody! We just got back from Italy—great weather there, I must say! We attended SES in Milan on the 29th and 30th of May. The conference was a great opportunity to talk to many of you. We really had a good time and want to thank all the people who stopped by to simply say "hi" or to talk to us in more detail about search engine strategies. This gave us a chance to talk to many participants and many of the big Italian actresses and actors in the SEO and web marketing worlds. We discussed recent developments in the Italian internet market, SEO strategies and evangelizing.

A number of you have raised interesting questions, and we'd like to go through two of these in more detail.

This is a situation a webmaster might find themself in: I optimized this site using some sneaky techniques that are not in accordance with Google's Webmaster Guidelines. I got away with it for a while and it helped me to rank in second position for certain keywords. Then, suddenly, I got an email from Google saying my site has been banned from the index because of those techniques (in these emails there is always an example of one of the infractions found). I now have cleaned up the site and after some days the site was back in the index. Why on earth doesn't my site rank in the second position anymore, even though I've already paid for the sneaky techniques we used?

OK, before answering let me ask you a couple of questions:

  • Didn't you optimize your site with those techniques in order to artificially boost the ranking?
  • Didn't you think those techniques had worked out (in a short term perspective at least)?

So, if there has been spamming going on, we encourage a site that has gotten an email from Google to take this notification seriously. Many people clean up their sites after receiving a notification from us. But we must also take into account that besides the shady SEO techniques used on a particular site (for instance hidden text, redirecting doorway pages, etc) there are often off-site SEO techniques used such as creating artificial link popularity in order to gain a high position in Google's SERPs.

So, to make it straightforward, once those manipulations to make a site rank unnaturally high are removed, the site gains the position it merits based on its content and its natural link popularity. Note that of course the ranking of your site also depends on other sites related to the same topic and these sites might have been optimized in accordance to our guidelines, which might affect the ranking of your site.

Note that a site does not keep a stain or any residual negative effect from a prior breach of our webmaster guidelines, after it has been cleaned up.

That is why we first and foremost recommend to work hard on the content made for the audience of your site, as the content is a decisive factor for building natural link popularity. We all know how powerful a strong natural link popularity can be.

Search quality, content quality and your visitor's experience.

During our conversations about search-related issues, another topic that came up frequently was landing pages and writing for search engines, which are often related when we consider organic search results.

So, think of your visitors who have searched for something with Google and have found your page. Now, what kind of welcome are you offering? A good search experience consists of finding a page that contains enough information to satisfy your original query.

A common mistake in writing optimized content for search engines is to forget about the user and focus only on that particular query. One might say, that's how the user landed on my page!

At the end of that day, exaggerating this attitude might lead to create pages only made to satisfy that query but with no actual content on them. Such pages often adopt techniques such as, among others, mere repetition of keywords, duplicate content and overall very little value. In general, they might be in line with the keywords of the query – but for your visitor, they're useless. In other words, you have written pages solely for the search engine and you forgot about the user. As a result, your visitor will find a page apparently on topic but totally meaningless.

These "meaningless" pages, artificially made to generate search engine traffic, do not represent a good search experience. Even though they do not employ other not recommendable techniques, such as for examples hidden text and links, they are very much made solely for the purpose of ranking for particular keywords, or a set of keywords, but actually are not offering a satisfying search result in itself.

A first step to identify if you are causing a bad search experience for your visitor consists of checking that the pages that they find are actually useful. They will have topical content, that satisfies the query for which your visitor has found it and are overall meaningful and relevant. You might want to start with the pages that are most frequently found and extend your check up to your entire site. To sum up, as general advice, even if you want to make a page that is easily found via search engines, remember that the users are your audience, and that a page optimized for the search engine does not necessarily meet the user's expectations in terms of quality and content. So if you find yourself writing content for a search engine, you should ask yourself what the value is for the user!