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Google Secure Search

By hagrin - Posted on 03 June 2007

Update - As of 17 May 2010, it looks as if secured search will be offered by Google!

After reading about another vulnerability found in the Google Desktop software (a new man-in-the-middle attack), I was reading through some user comments at Slashdot and was hit by one of them like a ton of bricks -

Why doesn't Google offer secured search?

Wait a second, they don't? They offer a secured version of their Gmail application. Although Google doesn't make it very public that a secured version exists, you can login through a SSL page and all pages will be appended with the https prefix. But, what happens when you try to navigate to https://www.google.com ? Simply, you are redirected to the basic Google search page.

So, is this even a big deal? Probably not since many services are not encrypted over SSL. In addition, the data being passed are simply search terms. However, if search terms can be sniffed and recorded and indexed by parties outisde of Google, there is a certain level of privacy that doesn't exist that maybe should. When Google released their search history and web history functionality, many outsiders complained about the privacy violations. However, if a third party could garner the same information through back channels, should we be as equally concerned? When you think about the biggest sites around on the Internet, I cannot think of one single site that gets nearly the smae traffic Google does and that offers a SSL connection for all their pages. Therefore, one has to wonder how well the secured search solution would scale and what type of overhead would be involved on offering the solution at all - no less by default.

My final thought - I think it would be nice if the option existed, but it definitely doesn't need to be a default connection that "normal" users need to conern themselves with. I think that you will see a secure search page within the next year or two for sure.

Google Buys FeedBurner & What this Means for SEOs

By hagrin - Posted on 02 June 2007

Today, Google officially announced the purchasing of FeedBurner, the RSS analytical company providing statistics for RSS feeds such as subscriber counts, clickthroughs and other web metrics. This is an extremely wise purchase by Google because this closes a gap that their other analytical offering, Urchin (and its free web based version for webmasters), didn't provide RSS metrics. Prior to the FeedBurner purchase, Google could only provide RSS metrics through Google Reader subscriber counts for a specific feed - highly inaccurate due to the fact that Google only had access to only a slice of the RSS-using population.

What does this mean for webmasters? Well, I would think that the SEO implications are pretty obvious - either take advantage of the FeedBurner service or sacrifice the RSS metric potentially effecting your site's ranking. Sure, Google could still get some of the information from the user side (i.e. Google Reader subscribers to your feed), but webmasters would lose the metrics race to those optting-in to the Google services. Since Google currently drives a large portion of traffic to all sites, webmasters really do need to make a decision on linking all of their site's information into Google related services and what that means to their search position on other engines.

While most of all the other Google analytic initiatives still allowed webmasters to not sacrifice their position with other search engines, redirecting your RSS feeds through FeedBurner directly is a dangerous move long-term. Instead, I would suggest webmasters redirect their original feed URL to FeedBurner and display the original feed to site users. This will allow webmasters to relinquish control in some manner, but still does not solve the problem of having to potentially muticast the feed to other RSS analytic services.

Search Engine Ranking Factors

By hagrin - Posted on 08 May 2007

Although this article is already a month old, I have to applaud everyone involved at SEOmoz who created an extremely comprehensive list of Search Engine Ranking Factors. They provide you a great checklist of search engine optimzation factors to keep in mind and rank them according to what some of the more respected voices in the SEO industry deem as "important".

There isn't much "new" content here as much of what is covered should be pretty basic to the seasoned SEO, but it does provide a prioritized checklist for SEOs to follow and use to review client sites. Keywords in TITLE tags, inbound links, domain age and other factors are noted (obviously) as major factors contributing to SEO success. This SEO checklist provided me a valuable tool for performing site evaluations.

Using Unique META Description Tags

By hagrin - Posted on 28 February 2007

SEO Roundtable posted an article recently about why a webmaster should use unique META description tags. Their informative post describes how the dreaded "In order to show you the most relevant results, we have omitted some entries very similar to the 1 already displayed. If you like, you can repeat the search with the omitted results included" Google message is a clear warning sign that your site doesn't use unique META tags. META description tags are used to give search engine users a clearer description of what your page is really about past the title and some text from your root site page.

Interestingly enough, this site doesn't use unique META description tags and that is something I hope to rectify after a little research as to whether or not Drupal 5 has an option for turning them on. Hopefully, these descriptions will help search engine users find my content easier and more frequently. Once I do find a Drupal 5 modification, I will relay it to the community through this site.

View Your Supplemental Index Results

By hagrin - Posted on 27 February 2007

Aaron Wall, from SEO Book (one of my favorite SEO blogs on the Internet currently), recently posted a guide on how to view your site's pages stuck in Google's supplemental index. Aaron's article really is spot on as he talks about what causes your pages to be thrown into Google's supplemental index, how to calculate your Supplemental Index Ratio and exactly what that ratio number means to your site.

To determine what pages are in Google's supplemental index, perform the following Google search:

site:www.yoursite.com *** -sljktf

This is definitely a good query to add to your SEO tools so you can see exactly how many of your pages are hitting the supplemental index and whether or not your supplemental index ratio is increasing or decreasing.

Microsoft Releases Live Search SOAP API 1.0

By hagrin - Posted on 06 February 2007

Microsoft announced their Live Search SOAP API 1.0 is out of beta and has been rebranded to reflect the name of their search engine. The Live Search SOAP API excites programmers like me because, while Google has removed any future access to their SOAP API, Microsoft is enhancing theirs and providing more power to the programmers of the world. A quick comparison of the Google SOAP API and the Live Search SOAP API shows the following:

  • The Live Search SOAP API is still being actively developed by Microsoft while Google has stopped releasing SOAP API keys and support to the servers handling the API requests.
  • The Google SOAP API allows for 1,000 queries per day where the Live Search SOAP API allows for up to 10,000 queries per day. The higher number of maximum daily queries would allow for companies to more accurately track their performance and track more keywords and phrases.
  • The Google SOAP API allows you to only pull the first 100 results for a particular search phrase while the Live Search SOAP API can return up to the first 1,000 results for a term.

In addition to the comparison with Google, the Live Search SOAP API has added features such as additional language support, enhancing search tag results, improving local search, phone book results and improved their documentation with additional code samples. Remember, you will Visual Studio 2005 and the .Net 2.0 Framework to utilize this API.

The only problem I see with the new Live Search SOAP API? It can't query the Google index.

Google Inbound Links Tool

By hagrin - Posted on 05 February 2007

The Official Google Blog announced a new tool that shows webmasters their inbound links through Google Webmaster Central. This tool replaces the broken link: operator and is thoroughly explained on the Google Webmaster Blog here.

The tool provides links differentiated by external and internal links. External links are links that direct to your site that are located outside of your domain. Internal links are links that direct to pages on your site and are located on your domain. A new "Links" tab was added within the Webmaster Central tool which allows you to see external and internal as well as links to specific pages on your site. This data can also be downloaded through the Webmaster interface.

Thank you Google for providing us with a valuable tool to evaluate link information.

SEO Guide: Canonical Domains, Apache & HTTP 301 Redirects

By hagrin - Posted on 05 January 2007

Posted By: hagrin
Create Date: 14 December 2005
Last Updated: 4 January 2006

Overview:
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) remains the ultimate goal of the webmaster, blog publisher, e-commerce seller, AdSense user and pageview junkie. By tweaking and modifying your website's layout, design and content, a domain owner can increase his listing rank when terms are searched on the major search engines (for the purpose of these articles, the major search engines are Google, Yahoo! and MSN). One SEO hint/tip/issue that website owners need to deal with is duplicate content penalties resulting from a canonical domain issue. This article will talk about what exactly this problem is and how to resolve it.

What Exactly is a Canonical Domain Name?:
Webopedia defines a canonical name (CNAME) as:

Short for canonical name, also referred to as a CNAME record, a record in a DNS database that indicates the true, or canonical, host name of a computer that its aliases are associated with. A computer hosting a Web site must have an IP address in order to be connected to the World Wide Web. The DNS resolves the computer’s domain name to its IP address, but sometimes more than one domain name resolves to the same IP address, and this is where the CNAME is useful. A machine can have an unlimited number of CNAME aliases, but a separate CNAME record must be in the database for each alias.

I'm sure many of you are saying "English (or your first language) please!". Basically, when you purchased your domain name (for instance, I bought hagrin.com), you have also purchased the ability to add a CNAME (sometimes called "parking a subdomain"). By default, the "www" CNAME is automatically created for your domain usually upon your purchasing of the domain. Therefore, right away, users will have two ways of navigating to your site - through http://www.hagrin.com (with the "www") and http://hagrin.com (just the domain name). Giving users the ability to get to your site in two ways seems to be beneficial without any drawbacks. However, if users can get to your site by 2 different URLs, search engine crawlers can also crawl your content by both URLs. If this does occur (and you have no preventive measures in place), then search engines may collect two copies of the same data, but at two different links potentially causing a "duplicate content" penalty for your site.

How do I know if I have a problem? Well, you can use the Search Engine Friendly Redirect Checker to diagnose any potential problems your site may have. As a note, don't only test the home page, try testing some pages that are not in the root directory to make sure all of your URLs redirect in a search engine friendly manner. So how can you avoid this from happening or fix it once you have diagnosed a problem?

The Fix:
I encountered this problem recently and wanted to make sure that I wasn't having my site split into two or having my content duplicated causing me to drop in the search rankings. Therefore, I started looking around for a way to redirect my users from the plain hagrin.com to www.hagrin.com for all documents on my server. Hagrin.com runs on a Linux machine using Apache as its web server software so the fix below is specific to Apache's web server. After browsing the web for a few hours, I came to the conclusion that I needed to perform a HTTP 301 Redirect for my hagrin.com pages to www.hagrin.com links. Knowing that I was using Apache, I was able to create a .htaccess file in the web root directory (/www) of my web server and added the following lines of code:

RewriteEngine On
RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^hagrin\.com$ [NC]
RewriteRule ^(.*)$ http://www.hagrin.com/$1 [R=301,L]

So what exactly does this code do? Well, if a user were to request http://hagrin.com/rss/hagrin_atom.xml, the user would be redirected to http://www.hagrin.com/rss/hagrin_atom.xml instead. This allows for both requests, hagrin.com and www.hagrin.com, to lead to the same URL and prevent any duplicate content penalties. If you aren't using Apache, the fix for this issue may be very different and I would suggest doing a Google search on HTTP 301 redirects to resolve any canonical domain name issues you may be having.

Resources:

  1. Webopedia CName Definition
  2. Search Engine Friendly Redirect Checker
  3. SocialSocial Patterns - "Cleaning Up Canonical URLs With Redirects"
  4. Matt Cutts on Canonical Domain Issues

Version Control:

  1. Version 1.1 - 4 January 2006 - Updated Resources to include Matt Cutts' Canonical Domain Issues post
  2. Version 1.0 - 14 December 2005 - Original Article

SEO: Using "Nofollow" for External Links & Preserving Page Rank

By hagrin - Posted on 05 January 2007

SEO Guide: Using "Nofollow" for External Links & Preserving Page Rank

Posted By: hagrin
Date: 20 December 2005

Overview:
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) remains the ultimate goal of the webmaster, blog publisher, e-commerce seller, AdSense user and pageview junkie. By tweaking and modifying your website's layout, design and content, a domain owner can increase his listing rank when terms are searched on the major search engines (for the purpose of these articles, the major search engines are Google, Yahoo! and MSN). One SEO hint/tip/issue that website owners should adhere to is preserving page rank through careful selection of external links. This article will define a lot of the terms used such as page rank, external links, etc., explain how the rel="nofollow" attribute works in preserving page rank, the possible drawbacks and an implementation plan.

What are External Links & How Does it Affect my Page Rank?
A major concern for website owners trying to optimize their sites deals with page rank within search engine result pages. Page rank is defined by Google as:

PageRank relies on the uniquely democratic nature of the web by using its vast link structure as an indicator of an individual page's value. In essence, Google interprets a link from page A to page B as a vote, by page A, for page B. But, Google looks at more than the sheer volume of votes, or links a page receives; it also analyzes the page that casts the vote. Votes cast by pages that are themselves "important" weigh more heavily and help to make other pages "important."

Important, high-quality sites receive a higher PageRank, which Google remembers each time it conducts a search. Of course, important pages mean nothing to you if they don't match your query. So, Google combines PageRank with sophisticated text-matching techniques to find pages that are both important and relevant to your search. Google goes far beyond the number of times a term appears on a page and examines all aspects of the page's content (and the content of the pages linking to it) to determine if it's a good match for your query.

If you thought that was a mouthful, you can read the explanation of page rank offered by Iprcom (this resource is for the math lovers only. Another good resource for explaining page rank can be found here at Web Workshop). So with Google's definition and a formula for calculating page rank, what does page rank have to do with how we post links to other websites on our site or blog? Web Workshop describes the potential harm that outbound links cause to our page rank as the following:

Outbound links are a drain on a site's total PageRank. They leak PageRank. To counter the drain, try to ensure that the links are reciprocated. Because of the PageRank of the pages at each end of an external link, and the number of links out from those pages, reciprocal links can gain or lose PageRank. You need to take care when choosing where to exchange links.

So, we see that we want to maximize our incoming links from other sites while limiting the amount of outbound links to otehr sites. This may prove difficult for some sites that report news since most of the content will come from outside sources. In addition, even original content writers use resources and it's generally good practice to list your references. Well, seems that we are between a rock and a hard place. However, in 2005, the major search engines adopted a new attribute for the anchor tag - rel=nofollow.

Using the "rel=nofollow" Attribute
What exactly does the rel=nofollow attribute do and how do we use it? Well, if you choose to make a link to another website and add the rel=nofollow attribute to the anchor tag, then search engines (when crawling your page) will not counts these links as an outbound link. They will act as functional text links to users, but no more than text to the search engine. Obviously, the benefit of this comes from being able to build highly informative web pages without enduring the page rank leakage from including external links. How do you actually use nofollow? Well, let's look at the example code below:

<a href="http://www.hagrin.com" rel="nofollow">Hagrin.com</a>

As you can see, it's very simple. Just make a link as you would normally do and then just add the rel="nofollow" attribute. It's really that easy.

Potential Drawbacks:
With most SEO tricks and tips, there are portential drawbacks for sure. Although no site directly talks about penalties directly associated to overuse of the nofollow tag, the blogging industry frown heavily upon using nofollow even in cases of trying to combat comment spamming. In addition, many people have come up with CSS snippets that allow them to browse a page and have nofollow links highlighted in a manner that makes it clealry visibile that nofollow is being used. The CSS used by some would look something like this:

a[rel~=”nofollow”] {
border: thin dashed firebrick ! important;
background-color: rgb(255, 200, 200) ! important;
}

This will alert readers to your use of nofollow and potentially cause "bad karma" for your site. Therefore, you may want to consider how heavily you use nofollow and for what sites you will use it for. Hopefully, with extremely directed usage and a little thought, you will be able to maximize your page rank by controlling the external links offf of your site.

Resources:

  1. Official Google Technology
  2. Iprcom Page Rank Explanation
  3. Web Workshop Page Rank Explanation
  4. Matt Cutts' Nofollow CSS

Version Control:

  1. Version 1.0 - 20 December 2005 - Original Article

Does Digg Belong in Google's Index?

By hagrin - Posted on 04 January 2007

I have to thank Search Engine Journal for posing one of the better questions so far of 2007 - does Digg belong in Google's index? (Actually, as you read the SEJ article, Allen Stern seems to have posed this question first.)

So, Does Digg belong in Google's search index?

First, a lot of people have weighed in on this topic since the initial people posed this subject and almost all of them are just plain wrong not because of where they sit on the issue, but more because the facts they used to support their arguments do not make sense or are completely false. What are some of the arguments for both sides and what are the misconceptions?

Pros

  • Helping Users Find Content - This would be the strongest argument for including Digg results within the Google index. Although many people seem to be incorrectly using the term "pagerank" (see here), the general idea is solid. Some pages on lesser authoritative sites (based on not only PR, but backlinks, keyword density, domain age, robots.txt exclusions, etc.) that hold the original content may get lost in the Google index and having the Digg result appear in the index improves the chance that the Google user will find the content he/she is looking to find. Generally, the rule states that you want to do anything that improves the user experience and helping users find the content they need should be the goal of any search engine.
  • Digg Mirroring - One of the greatest benefits of having the Digg version of a story appear in the search results is if a story disappears from the original site, very often the Digg comments will contain a link to a mirror of the original content keeping it alive past just the lifespan of the original website. However, would the average user know that? Obviously, no since most average users have never even clicked on the "Cached" link within the Google search results.
  • Don't Like It? Customize Google - Many people suggested using the -site: digg.com command with all your searches; however that's extremely inefficient unless you're using a Greasemonkey script. But why not just create your own Custom Search Engine and put Digg on your excluded sites list? The fix is easy and more people should really take advantage of the CSE offering from Google.

    Cons

  • Other Indices Do Not Exist within Google SERPs - Probably the most compelling argument for why Digg shouldn't be included in the Google search results is that other indicies, like Yahoo!'s search results do not appear in the Google index. This is obvious because search indices don't have "value added" or original content - they contain the page's title and a short description. Of course you're saying - but is Digg an index? Many will argue that yes, Digg is nothing more than an informative/popular index of links. Although there are no hard numbers to confirm this, it would appear that most Digg stories are submitted with the title and the description 100% copied from the original, linked site. Even if we could prove the previous statement, many would say that the comments associated to the Digg submission provides the original content to differentiate itself from other indices. However, the prevailing opinion of the Digg commenting system is so low that many, including myself, consider it broken, highly useless and completely inferior to similar sites like Slashdot.
  • I'm Tired of Clicking - Another popular argument seems to hold that the user experience is diminished because to actually reach the desired content the user is looking for by having to click on the Google search result and then the title on the Digg page. In addition, users unfamiliar with the Digg interface may not understand that the content actually exists after one more "hop". Although the Digg interface is similar to the Google interface (a blue link followed by a short description), I would like to see the functionality improved to something like Reddit's RSS feed where the direct link takes you to the original story and there is a "More" option to read through Reddit comments - something I almost never do.
  • Original Content < Digg Scraped Content? - As a webmaster, I see something inherently wrong with what amounts to no more than a user powered scraper site ranking higher in Google SERPs than the original content. However, it's important that this is not a deficiency of Digg, but more a "feature" of Google's search indexing algo.
  • Duplicate Content - Let's say that the original content URL and the Digg link both appear within the Top 10 results for a search term. How is duplicate content enhancing the user experience? Answer - it's not. There's little difference between this scenario and those generated by spam blogs.

    Misconceptions

  • Digg is more informative than most sites - The Digg fanboys will be all over this point, but the fact remains that many of the stories submitted to Digg are either blog spam, incorrect or written by authors looking to profit through their site. The reason why Digg attracts a high percentage of these types of sites is because of Digg's power - its massive, fanatical user base, the backlinks a promoted story will receive and the other benefits that relate to increasing your site's popularity. However, just because something is popular doesn't mean that it should be considered an "authoritative source" for certain topics. This isn't a problem specific to Digg, but to much of the Internet and its users - no one is sure exactly who they should trust.

    Conclusion
    So, if you've been reading carefully, you've noticed that I haven't taken a side. Where do I stand on the issue? Simple - create and use Google's Custom Search Engine option. Now, Google has to do a better job of promoting this highly valuable tool to "Joe Internet" because many of the usability issues deal with the average user and the CSE option isn't known by more than 1% of the Internet population I would gather (percentage not based on any facts, just perception). How could it be made more mainstream? If you've ever used a site like Match.com to look for hot steamy love, you can filter out your searches by eliminating certain people from continually showing up in search results with a simple click of an X. Google could implement something similar and save those preferences based on a user the same way they save search history, CSE optimizations, etc. Therefore, whether or not you agree or disagree with Digg's inclusion, you should know that you can put your own solution into action and determine Digg's influence in your Google searches.