Recently, Matt Cutts (head of webspam at Google) announced that they have changed the way that nofollow links are used. In fact, the way that Google have treated these links changed nearly a year ago but they only got around to announcing it now.
For most people, this doesn’t matter at all but for those of us that are SEOs or those of us that have a blog, it matters a reasonable amount.
First, a bit of history. the nofollow attribute was added so that you could tell Google that a link from your website wasn’t to be followed by their spider. So if someone paid you for an advert that linked to their site, or if you linked to a dodgy website for some reason then you could tell Google to ignore it.
Nofollow was also used by SEOs to carry out what is known as “PageRank Sculpting”. Essentially, every page on a website has a certain amount of juice. The more juice you have, the higher your ranking for certain searches.
You gather juice by having websites link to you and you pass juice to other people by linking to them The amount of juice you have depends on what websites are linking to you and how much juice they are passing to you. If the BBC links to you then they may be giving you 10 units of juice because they are a popular site whereas if your mate’s dog site links to you it may only pass 1 unit of juice.
Logically, the less you link out then the more juice you hoard and the higher your rankings for that page. It’s not actually that simple, since Google doesn’t like it if you don’t link out at all, but we’ll keep it simple!
What often happened however was that people would spam blogs by leaving hundreds of useless, innane comments just so they could get a link back to their site. Nofollow fixed that since you could set your blog so that any comments are nofollowed. That way you would save your link juice and not risk linking to any dodgy areas either.
It was a simple and elegant solution.
But with this new change, there are two major impacts.
1 – The juice that you thought you were hoarding by nofollowing a link is now just evaporating into nothing. If you have nofollowed lots of unimportant pages on your website (such as the terms and condition pages) then you’re no longer saving that juice – it’s just disappearing.
2 - If you have a blog, every comment on every page is causing that page to lose juice that enables it to rank for various search terms.
Most SEOs are up in arms about point (1) because all of the effort they spent PageRank sculpting now has to be removed and their site architecture reworked. This won’t affect most people. But what WILL affect most people is the use of n in blogs.
The simplest way to fix this is to switch off comments, but that’s a pretty unsatisfactory solution and doesn’t encourage any conversations on your blog.
This is how it works: if you comment X number of times then you won’t get a link at all. But the more trusted you are and the more comments you have approved, the more trust you gain. Once you’ve gained the trust of the blog owner (by giving useful, insightful comments) then every comment you write will have a nice dofollow link which will actually pass juice to your website.
It’s an elegant solution and the first decent thing to come out of the nofollow changes. I actually think it’ll become the norm for blog commenting in the future.
I’ll be installing the plugin over the next day or so and then the MMD will become a dofollow blog for those loyal followers! I recommend you do the same.
Hashtags are words that you paste onto the end of your tweets to add to a larger conversation. The way it works is that people will use Twitter Search to see what people are saying about a particular event. If you want to join the conversation then you use an appropriate hash tag.
A popular term at the moment is Wimbledon:
“I hope Andy Murray wins today. #wimbledon”
Lately, spammers have been using hash tags to promote their services.
“Get your ring tones here: http://whatever #wimbledon”
So people searching for the latest news on Wimbledon (and there are a lot) are also getting these spammy messages as well. It’s the equivalent of pasting the word Britney Spears all over your website to try to attract more traffic. That was something that people used to do to game Google back in the 90s and although it’s crude, it works enough to attract people, assuming you don’t care about your brand.
Habitat, in a moment of madness, decided to use this technique to attract more traffic by using tags about Apple, iPhone and in one instance, the situation in Iran to promote a new database.
It’s a great example of how NOT to use Twitter and how making a seemingly tiny mistake can have huge consequences on your brand. The backlash has been swift and loud. People hated the fact that a premium brand was resorting to such low techniques.
Sensibly, Habitat have swiftly apologised and fired the person responsible (an intern).
The story will live with them though. 3 years ago, BMW were kicked out of the search results for trying to game Google and people still refer back to it today. Habitat will now be known throughout the tech world as the company that made an amateur attempt to spam Twitter.
I remember the Chairman where I used to work once told us that any one of us could sink the company if we wanted to. I didn’t believe him at the time but this is an example of just how it can be done (and in fact, a year or so after I left, the company got into major high-profile trouble after a junior consultant lost some restricted government data!).
So, lessons learned today?
Your brand is one of the most valuable things you have. It takes years to build it up and you can lose it in an instance. Don’t trust it to an inexperienced intern!
I was speaking with my good friend yesterday, the marketing guru Jim Connolly and we got onto the topic of affiliate programmes. Jim was telling me that while affiliate programmes are very common online, they also work just as well offline. In fact, they can be even more powerful offline simply because personal recommendations between friends and contacts in the real world are of such high value.
The reason that affiliate programmes work so well is because of the power of a personal recommendation. If you receive a cold call offering you a service then you are naturally extremely wary. But if a good friend or a business partner that you trust recommends the same service then you know that you can trust that service.
It was a pretty timely conversation because just a few days ago we launched our own affiliate programme for MMD.
It’s very simple. If you recommend MMD to any of your clients, associates, partners or friends and they buy anything from us, whether it’s a new website design our any of our SEO services, then you will get a whole 10% of the total sale value.
For example, if you recommend us to one of your clients, perhaps a medium sized business, and they buy one of our professional, search engine optimised websites for £10,000 then we will send a cheque, made out to you personally, for £1000 ($1600)!
Each of our affiliate partners is given a unique website address to pass on when they are recommending us. So even if your associate forgets to tell us that you recommended us, we can still see that they came via you from the unique website address that they used.
And what’s more is that we store that from the first time they come to the website. So even if they wait 6 months before they buy something from us, we’ll still know that it was you that recommended them and you’ll still get your 10% – even if you haven’t spoken to them for half a year!
We understand the power of a recommendation and that’s why we’re willing to pay thousands of pounds to have your recommendation.
To register with the MMD affiliate programme and to get your own unique URL, visit our affiliate page here.
I’ve been on the web since 1995 and have seen websites evolve from when the default background colour was grey through to today where anything goes. My very first website had a highly classy ‘repeating cloud’ background which I thought was fantastic at the time. However, looking back, this may not have been the case!
The fact is that there are designs that people think are fantastic but in fact, they are truly awful. And what better way to spend our time than to find them and make fun of them?
So, for the first an in occasional series, let’s look at some Truly Dreadful Websites.
First up is: http://www.dokimos.org/ajff/
OK, where to start with this one.
This website wants to kill you. Seriously!
Firstly, you get an epilepsy inducing background that needs a serious health warning. It that doesn’t get you, then the streaming music will do. That awful repetitive song (naturally, you can’t stop it) causes your heart rate to increase until the sweet release of a heart attack induced death makes the music finally stop.
And what else do we have. A cat running along the bottom – well, what website doesn’t have that? Plus a bird flying around, perhaps trying to escape from the cat? And finally, as a sort of cherry on top, there’s an image of a ladder with a paint pot and two concrete Venetian-style arches. Genius.
But wait, what else – is it trying to load an Active-X control? No, by some clever coding that frankly puts the rest of the site to shame, they’ve created a virus warning to show that your actual soul is under attack but that Internet Explorer has detected that and can save you.
That’s not something that they’ve publicised in IE 8 is it?
And now, over to our official adjudicator for the final, scientifically calculated, scores:
Score: (on a scale of 1 being unoffensive and 10 being truly offensive)
Use of colour: 8/10. Good effort – my eyes are still hurting
Useless tacky bits: 7/10. Points awarded for the creative use of the cat, ladder, Venetian arches and the bird
Innovation: 8/10. The ActiveX warning is genius
Usability: 2/10. Disappointing – all the links seemed to work and it’s got a pretty easy navigation system
Annoyance factor: 9/10. The music and the colour both require a health warning
So, a pretty good showing from this website. They did a pretty good job on getting everything wrong except the usability, although the fact you can barely see it due to the background deserves an honourary mention.
However, there are plenty more websites out there that are ready to knock this one off its perch so stay tuned for part 2 – coming soon!
There are thousands of self-proclaimed experts on Twitter but there are very few actual experts that are worth following for their SEO advice.
However, having been very active on Twitter for over a year now, I’ve built up a list of people who use Twitter to hand out solid SEO advice (amongth other things) and I’d definitely recommend following everyone listed below (in no particular order!). I could add a ton more, but this is a pretty good list to get started with.
Have I missed anyone? Guys like Matt Cutts post the odd SEO tip but not too often so he didn’t make the cut (pardon the (totally intended) pun!). Let me know in the comments!
Take a look at this short piece on the BBC news website. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/hampshire/8108319.stm
At the moment it’s the fifth most popular article on the BBC news site and you can be sure that it’ll be picked up in
hundreds of other websites, tweeted about, covered in many social media websites and generally talked about all over the Internet. It’ll probably be covered hardest in the local media since it’s been so heavily featured nationally.
What all of this coverage adds up to is tens or even hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of publicity. And all they had to do was to get a cute duck, a few photos and a few quotes. Simple!
Whether the restaurant went out to get this result with the duck or not, I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure they’ll be delighted with the results and their bookings will be well up for the summer. It’s a brilliant example of how simple viral marketing can be.
Maybe I should change our company name to Cute Kitten SEO – every new client gets a cute kitten and a ball of string. All I need to do is write a press release, including some cute pictures with happy clients and their kittens, then sit back and enjoy the publicity. Then I can get a second wave when I get some animal rights protestors to attack our offices demanding that we stop exploiting kittens. Genius!
How about you? What are your ideas for using cute animals for publicity?
The world of search engine optimisation has become so competitive (and lucrative) that for many years now, there have been many dodgy techniques employed to help push websites further up the rankings.
Generally, these techniques are far beyond Google’s terms of service and are commonly referred to as ‘Black Hat SEO’. Instead of writing good content or getting links legitimately, black hats hack and spam their way to the top of the rankings.
Unfortunately, these techniques are often very effective because it takes time for Google to track down the spammed and hacked websites and remove them from their database. Also, there’s no guarantee that they’ll penalise the website that is being promoted (otherwise everyone will be using black hat techniques against their competitors!) so it’s usually the unaware and unwilling that suffer the fall out.
Can you say with 100% certainty that your website hasn’t been hacked? How would you know if a spammer had broken into your website and added a load of hidden text to every page linking to pornographic websites?
One way you can find out is to use Google to see what it knows about your website.
Most people only use Google to search for simple terms but in fact, it has a lot of very powerful functionality that allows your carry out some advanced queries.
For example, the ‘site:’ operator pulls back results from a specific domain. So if you were to type in site:massmediadesign.co.uk, it would bring back all indexed pages from this domain.
You can then refine that query by adding words such as ‘site:massmediadesign.co.uk seo‘ to get all pages that have the word ‘SEO’ on them.
Most black hat techniques are used for really competitive searches such as ‘viagra’, ‘cialis’, ‘poker’ and ‘car insurance’. So, for example, to take a quick look to see if the Edinburgh University website has been caught out by hackers you could try the following:
And you can see that they have!
Try it with your domain and with a variety of words. See what you can find and let me know in the comments.
One old SEO technique that I still see is that of blog commenting.
Years ago, it was an easy way to generate links to your website. All you had to do was leave a comment on a blog and either add your website to the comment or populate the URL field. Either way, you’d get a nice link to your website. It didn’t require much effort and over a few weeks you could add hundreds of links to your website from hundreds of different websites.
Naturally, the more people did this the more out of control it got. People were leaving comments such as ‘Great post!’ and then dropping a link to their website. Or they were putting their name down as ‘Cheap Car Insurance’ so that they’d get nice keyword rich anchor text as well as a link.
Unsurprisingly, this doesn’t really work anymore.
For a start, most blog owners are pretty wise to people commenting on their blogs and if they see anything that looks remotely spammy then it gets deleted. Also, the majority of blogs are configured so that all links in the comments field are ‘nofollow’, which means that Google will ignore them anyway.
So, no matter how much time you spend adding comments – it will have virtually no impact on your website’s ranking ability.
There are a few ‘dofollow’ blogs out there, and there are a few lists of dofollow blogs but beware, if you’re caught trying to spam them then the consequences can be unpleasant, as seen by this article in the Guardian.
So when you’re commenting on blogs now, do it to add something to the conversation. If you add something worthwhile or insightful, and it’s a popular blog then you may just drive a few visitors to your website. Surely that’s far better than a miniscule push to your website rankings?
What are your thoughts? Leave your comments below!
Apparently this is down to the upcoming anniversary of the Tiananment Square Massacre in 1989. The Chinese authorities obviously don’t want their people to be exposed to alternative versions of the events in case it disagrees with their ‘official’ version.
However, this seems to be a strange move. There are surely many other websites that people will go to to get their news. I spent 6 months in China in 2006 and it didn’t take me very long to access ‘banned’ websites, such as BBC News etc. The Chinese people will quite easily get past this ‘ban’ and find out whatever information that they want.
Also, I’m sure that there will be plenty of other non-banned websites from around the world carrying coverage of the anniversary- do the Chinese authorities hope to ban all of them? They’d be better just pulling the plug on the Internet for a few days!
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