I was reading a blog post from John Andrews about a test that Google is running in the Nordic regions, and the news was a bit shocking…at least, initially.
If you’re in the region, and have a Google Webmaster Tools account, you can submit a request to be included within an SEO (define) site clinic that Google staffers will provide. Right now, they are only looking for four participants/Web sites.
Here’s what is mentioned on Google’s “Inside AdWords” blog post for this region:
A site clinic is where we go through the website you submit, provide feedback on them and share tips on how they can improve. This could make them better geared toward search engines, which will give better results in such as Google search. Hopefully, the work could lead to increased visibility for their website.
If you read on, the post continues with the fact that they will “highlight four pages (one for Denmark, one of Finland, one for Norway and one for Sweden) which we will analyze.” Submissions are being accepted between now and February 22 and during March they will publish a blog post for each page where they will share their findings and recommendations. Four pages? That is what the post says (thank you to Google Translate).
Now, site clinics (even for Google) aren’t completely new. Matt Cutts, from Google, has been kind enough to participate in a number of site clinics at search marketing conferences. And, to be clear, there’s no mention of any fees (now or in the future) for these site clinics. But, if you were to follow the Twitter trail on February 11, there were more than a few SEOs who are not real happy with Google “doing SEO.” As of the day of this writing, it seems that people have become more sensible.
First, let’s set the stage here:
It is not in Google’s best interest to tell everyone the “secret sauce” (algorithm). Google does not want Webmasters to manipulate its search results. However, it is in Google’s best interest to get as many Web sites as possible to be search engine “friendly” and to educate Webmasters on matters such as microformats that will help Google deliver better results to its searchers.
Google helping Webmasters is not a new thing.
In 2006, Google Sitemaps changed its name to Google Webmaster Tools. If you don’t know anything about Google Webmaster Tools, check out this PDF. It’s dated (Google has added features since this). But, this shows some of the great information that Google provides Webmasters to, in effect, assist them with their SEO. To me, the site clinics that are being offered are nothing more than Google Webmaster Tools “Lite,” but, of course, with the human element.
Google Webmaster Tools is everyone’s friend.
Some of the features that I regularly use in Google Webmaster Tools are:
- Links to your site
Understanding who links to your Web site (and why) can be a powerful thing. If you’re like most, you will find that most other Web sites are linking to your home page – which is the main reason why the home page is going to have the most authority and ability to rank for your most competitive keywords. The links shown in Google Webmaster Tools are the links that Google has within its index (the ones that Google knows about and is counting). You can also find this information for Yahoo by searching “linkdomain:www.nameofsite.com” within Yahoo Search (Yahoo Site Explorer). Of course, with the Yahoo search, you’ll need to use the dropdown to “exclude links from this domain.”
Another great feature within the “links to your site” area of Google Webmaster Tools is to see the anchor text in the links pointing to your Web site. Google is showing you that the words in the anchor text are a powerful ingredient to better rankings in the search engines.
If you are trying to rank (get traffic from) a keyword on Google search, you are going to need to have links using those keywords in the anchor text, in some form or fashion. I don’t necessarily recommend an “exact match” of the keywords. Ideally, you have multiple variations of the keywords within your links.
- Crawl errors
With “crawl errors,” you can find broken links within your Web site, and also find 404s from links pointing to your Web site. Obviously, it’s in your best interest – for usability and otherwise – to ensure that you don’t have any broken links within your Web site. But, don’t ignore the reports that show you 404s from links pointing to your Web site. With this information, you can find the page that was linked to (perhaps it doesn’t exist within your Web site any longer) and be sure to put in place a 301 redirect to point that URL to a page that does exist, and regain the value of that link.
- Site performance
It’s been written about recently how Google is starting to factor load time into its ranking algorithm. That is to say, the quicker your Web site loads, the better. This goes along with what we have often preached, “focus more on the user experience and not just SEO.” Users want a Web site which loads quickly, and so does Google. The Site Performance area of Google Webmaster Tools doesn’t just show you which pages may have load time issues, but also presents some thoughts on how you might fix these.
There are many, many more resources available in Google Webmaster Tools that I simply cannot get to within the confines this column. If you haven’t already signed up with Google Webmaster Tools, I strongly recommend that you do.
Google has one interest…do what’s best for the searcher. By focusing its efforts on improving its user experience, it continues to dominate the search landscape. With Google Webmaster Tools, it has provided information that does help you, but it is also providing this information because it helps Google clean up the Web. The fact that it is providing site clinics in the Nordic region (and at popular search marketing conferences) shouldn’t be a concern to SEOs. Google provides search marketing consultants with solid resources that we can point our clients and prospects to, for validation of our recommendations. I hope Google does more of this.
The way consumers search online has changed dramatically, but the ranking tools have yet to adapt to the search behavior of today’s consumer.
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