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Submit Express Newsletter #81 (February 2012)

elcome to the February edition of the Submit Express Newsletter, where you will find the latest industry news along with original information and helpful tips on search engine optimization, internet marketing, and social media.

Submit Express is committed to helping our clients and readers get the most out of their SEO and SEM campaigns by providing them with quality resources, tools, and do-it-yourself content from an insider’s perspective. Get the scoop by subscribing to our newsletter As usual, subscription is free.

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Google’s Secret Quality Guidelines Revealed and Explained

by Pierre Zarokian

As the dominant search engine in the world, Google decides whether your site will gain top rankings in the organic results of its search engine. And while the company offers general guidelines on how to create a Google-friendly website, it doesn’t offer any secrets that will guarantee high rankings, which is why the industry nearly went insane when some of the company’s top secrets leaked out.

In October of last year, an industry blogger named PotPieGirl found an online copy of Google’s Quality Rating Guidelines handbook, a 125-page document used by Google Search Quality Raters, or people trained to analyze search quality. As the document quickly spread online, industry bloggers and other sites began spilling the beans. Since then, Google has asked PotPieGirl to take down the URL of the document. However, the search giant wasn't fast enough to stop the content from spreading.

Most of us are familiar with Google’s primary method of evaluating websites, through algorithms designed to reward the best sites to the top of the search engine results page, and knock down the poor-quality sites beyond reach. But Google also hires people to evaluate websites manually. The following is a highlight of the most important, top secret, information from the document on how Google manually reviews sites for quality.

Search Intent Matters

Google Raters are trained to analyze the intent of the search query when rating results. According to Google, there are four types of search queries:

  1. Know queries: the user is searching for information. (When rating results, informational pages are not rated higher than Relevant when the user is searching to complete an action.)
  2. Go queries: the user is searching for a specific page on the web.
  3. Do queries: the user is searching for a site on the web where they can do something, such as buy an item, play a game, or download digital content.
  4. Combination searches: the user is searching for a place on the Internet where they can accomplish a combination of two or three of the goals above in one query. (For example, the majority of product searches is both know and do queries, because most searchers research products on the web before making a decision to purchase the product.)

Pages that satisfy the most common interpretation are rated higher than pages that satisfy the less common interpretation.

The Grading Scale

According to the Google document, utility is the most crucial component of search engine quality. Google Raters are required to rate a URL’s utility based on the following best-to-worst scale:

  • Vital: This rating is appropriate for special circumstances, including when the dominant purpose of a query is navigation, and the landing page is the purpose of the query.
  • Useful: A URL with a Useful rating must be helpful for most searches. According to Google, a Useful rating means that the URL is a good match for the query. It also has to feature some or all of the following descriptions: highly satisfying, authoritative, entertaining, and/or recent. Google describes Useful pages as typically “well organized” and trustworthy, with content from trustworthy sources, and pages that are not "spammy."
  • Relevant: Google considers Relevant pages URLS that are average to good, but not very good. Relevant pages are helpful for many or some users. While they might not reach the first page for best keywords, a Relevant page might rank well in less competitive markets or less competitive terms. Basic optimization might help transform a relevant-rated page into a Useful page.
  • Slightly Relevant: A page is rated Slightly Relevant when it has outdated information, or content that is too specific, or too broad. A Slightly Relevant page also refers to pages featuring low-quality content, copied content, or original copy that is too broad or not authoritative. Google also considers a page Slightly Relevant when it features query terms in the URLS or in the title on the landing page, but does not have quality content to support it.
  • Off-Topic or Useless: This rating is given to pages that are unrelated to the search query. An Off-Topic or Useless page also refers to spam, such as pages with links and ads, but without content.
  • Unratable: The lowest rating given by Google Raters, an Unratable page is a page that cannot be evaluated because it is in a foreign language or doesn’t load. Unratable pages also refer to URLS that are blank, pages with error messages without content, non-working redirects, malware warnings, and certificate of acceptance requests. An Unratable Page might be dropped from the index, flagged for review, or pushed back in the rankings.
  • Spam Flags: In addition to the ratings above, a page can be flagged with the following spam flags:
  1. Not spam: This tag is given to a page that is not believed to be created using deceptive web design strategies.
  2. Maybe spam: This tag is given to pages that might seem "spammy," but the Google Rater is not 100 percent sure that the webmaster designed it using deceptive techniques.
  3. Spam: A page is tagged with a Spam flag when it has been designed using the deceptive techniques outlined in Google’s "Webspam Guidelines," including hidden text, cloaking, Javascript redirects, Keyword-stuffed URLs, Framed pages, and computer generated nonsense.

Just as it is crucial for SEOs to understand how Google’s algorithms work, it is also important to learn the way Google Raters evaluate websites. When combined with other optimization techniques, these improvements can noticeably impact your performance in organic search results.

Google Announces Layout Algorithm Improvement

Google has launched an algorithmic update that evaluates the layout of a webpage. The latest change looks at the layout of a page as well as the amount of content featured on a page, and will negatively affect sites that don't have enough content "above-the-fold," such as sites where users have to scroll down the page past several ads to find content.

Google assures webmasters and site owners that the page layout algorithm change will not affect sites that feature a "normal" amount of ads above the fold. However, if a site features an "excessive degree" of ads or makes it difficult for users to find quality content on the page, it will not rank as highly. The search giant did not disclose the difference between "normal" and "excessive." However, in a blog post announcing the change, Google's Matt Cutts advised site owners and webmasters to use the company's Browser Size tool to evaluate how a website appears under various screen solutions.

"If you believe that your website has been affected by the page layout algorithm change, consider how your web pages use the area above-the-fold and whether the content on the page is obscured or otherwise hard for users to discern quickly," said Cutts.

According to Google, the latest algorithmic change affects less than 1 percent of searches worldwide. Sites with updated layouts will be automatically crawled and indexed by Google. So if your site is affected by the update, simply make the changes and wait for Googlebot to crawl and process enough pages on your site, a process that can take up to several weeks. Read more.

New Search Tool Out as Social Web Tells Google: "Don’t Be Evil"

Download the "bookmarklet" released today by an ad-hoc group of engineers from Facebook, Twitter, and Myspace, and you might get better search results from Google.

Last week, Google announced that information from its fledgling social network, Google+, would be surfaced in its search results all while effectively suppressing data from other competing, and much more popular, networks. Google claimed the suppression (unfair censoring?) was unavoidable because it could not adequately index data from the likes of Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn due to their reluctance to publicly share all their data.

Understandably, the folks behind the other networks — which do actually supply a significant amount of public data — were miffed. But they took quick, and pointed, action. The bookmarklet that’s now available, and which has Google’s famous motto for its name, “Don’t Be Evil,” uses Google’s own search capacities to demonstrate how the current setup of data suppression is avoidable, after all, and how the dominant force in search is using its brute force to manipulate results in a way that serves its own interests.

If you want to use the tool, go to and download it.

So far, only one name from the group of engineers is known: Blake Ross, a co-founder of Firefox who’s currently Facebook’s Director of Product. Read more.

Google + Is Vital for Search Marketers and SEO

With the recent launch of Search Plus Your World, Google has made it possible for users to find their own information on the web, including photos and content shared by them and other members of their network. However, most of this "personal" information comes not from Twitter, Facebook, or other sources but from Google Plus, which is why Google's social networking site has just become one of the most important tools for marketers.

Experts in the industry, including Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land, have already noticed the way Search Plus Your World offers personal information from Google Plus over other networks. This means that if a user or members of a user's network are not on Google Plus, their information will not be included in the personalized search results offered by Search Plus Your World. While this move by Google raises many concerns, most notably legal issues and product quality, it also creates new opportunities for search marketers.

According to Sullivan, having an account with Google Plus is so important that it can potentially bump a Google Plus page to the top of the sidebar results. Sullivan also points out that Google Plus accounts have not only flooded the search results pages of Search Plus Your World, but also taken over the search box, even for users who are not signed into Google. For example, when you type Britney Spears in the search box, the fourth autocomplete option features a link to Google Plus.

And while Sullivan has already made the point that being friends on "Google Plus can lead to better rankings" in personal results, he now says it can even help with regular listings. Read more.

Pretty-In-Pink Valley Girl Interviews Sheryl Sandberg

Facebook’s new digs in Menlo Park were recently visited by Jesse Draper, the host of “The Valley Girl,” an online talk show based in the Silicon Valley. Draper was on the hallowed (for tech devotees) premises to interview the company’s celebrated chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg. During the interview, Sandberg chatted about her first job as an office assistant; she greeted patients for an ophthalmologist boss — her father — during her tenure. Sandberg also shared tidbits about her subsequent stint as an aerobics instructor.

The show’s cameras made sure viewers got a good eyeful of the newly opened quarters. Highlights included a communal office bike, touch-screen soda machines, endless snacks, and a concrete message wall that replicates the spirit of the well-know virtual walls found on typical Facebook profiles.

Finally, Sandberg laid bare what impresses her the most about the company she helps run: the big “impact” that Facebook has in people’s lives, including her own, in matters that go beyond the daily toil of work. She even spoke of having felt less alone after sharing publicly, through her Facebook profile, an obituary she wrote for her recently deceased grandmother. She said she read every one of the Facebook comments she received following the post.

In addition to her high-powered position at Facebook, Sandberg also sits on the corporate boards of Starbucks and Disney. Read more.

Google Reveals Major Transformation to Search, Gets Personal

Google Search just got personal. The tech giant has unveiled a major change to its search results with the addition of "Search Plus Your World." The new transformation makes it possible for users to find their own information on the web, including information about people they know and the content they've shared with them. Search Plus Your World will be rolling out over the next few days to users signed in on in English.

"We're transforming Google into a search engine that understands not only content, but also people and relationships," writes Google's Amit Singhal, in a blog post announcing the major change. Although the search giant began this change with the introduction of Social Search, it has now, through "Search plus Your World, added three new features to search:

  1. Personal Results: This feature allows users to locate information specific to their community, including Google + photos and posts. For example, if a user wants to find information about a particular vacation destination, they can use the web, as well as search, to learn from the experiences of their friends through links shared by friends about restaurants and activities enjoyed while on the vacation. Personal Results will include both the user's information and those shared with the user, but only the user can see these results.
  2. Profiles in Search: With this new feature, users can now locate people they're close to or might be interested in following both in autocomplete and results. With Profiles in Search, users can find the person they're looking for and connect with them straight from the search results.
  3. People and Pages: The third and final feature helps users find profiles and Google + pages relevant to a particular topic or area of interest. People and Pages allows users to follow these people with a few simple clicks.

In addition to announcing the new features, Google has addressed the obvious concerns about privacy and security, since most of the personal information users will now find in search results will be of private photos and conversations. Google assures readers that Search Plus Your World is secured by SSL encryption, the same level of security and privacy it has for Google +. Search Plus Your World will not feature content from Facebook and Twitter, since these services don't allow search engines to crawl them and store information.

The search giant also says that it wants to be transparent about how these features work. Search results will now be marked as Public, Limited or Only you. What's more, by selecting one of two buttons on the upper right of the results page, users can view search results with or without personal content. Read more.

SOPA and PIPA Disowned By President, Republican Senators, and the Public

On Wednesday, Internet users came together to denounce two bills making their way through the American legislature: the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect Intellectual Property Act, also known as SOPA and PIPA. Many took directly to the streets, but the overwhelming majority expressed their opposition by spreading information about the issue on online social networks, signing petitions, writing emails to congress, calling their representatives’ offices (incredibly retro for some), and of course, tweeting about it.

Among the biggest organizers of the widespread protests were Wikipedia, Google, WordPress, and Reddit. These organizations have a lot to lose if the bills become laws. The regulatory measures being considered threaten to hold these institutions, already profoundly entrenched in people’s everyday lives and heavily dependent on user-generated content for their business, legally accountable for the copyright infringes of their millions (soon to be billions) of users.

The extent of the opposition demonstrated yesterday even caused two Republican senators to withdraw their support for the bills: Senator Marco Rubio, from Florida, and Senator John Cornyn, from Texas, no longer back the bills. President Obama expressed his non-support Saturday.

Speaking to the New York Times, Cary H. Sherman, the chairman and CEO of the Recording Industry Association of America delivered a quip telling of the uphill battle currently faced by the entertainment industry: “It’s very difficult to counter the misinformation when the disseminators also own the platform.” Read more.

Latest News

Internet Users in China Surpasses 500 Million

The Los Angeles Times reported that more than 500 million Chinese citizens used the web last year, according to a tech-industry firm, changing the way people process and discuss information and news in the communist-controlled state.  In December, the number of internet users grew 12 percent to 513 million, compared with the same period in 2010, according to the China Internet Network Information Center. The explosive growth has benefited several Chinese Internet companies such as search engine Baidu Inc., news site Sina Corp. and gaming and messaging service firm Tencent Holdings. Read more.

Facebook Shedding Its Echo Chamber Name

For some time now, Facebook has been saddled with the unfortunate sobriquet of Echo Chamber. As anyone who’s ever tried knows all too well, ditching an unwanted nickname is more than a little complicated (read: Difficult). But, since the company behind your online life record has the motivation, human resources, and economic means to carry out data studies that can, ahem, empirically disprove the basis on which such an inglorious moniker was erected, Facebook has done just that. Read more.

Public Interest Research Center Files Complaint Against Google's New Search Results

Google continues to be inundated with complaints over its new search feature, Search Plus Your World. The Los Angeles Times reports that the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a Washington-based public interest research center, filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission on January 12 over the new feature, saying it invades the privacy of users while shutting out rivals. Read more.

YouTube's Networkization Ready for 2012

At seven years old, and swaggering with all its 800 million unique monthly visitors, YouTube is on the verge of something new: original, non-amateur video content. The site even has a swank-ily revamped interface from which to present its offerings of polished content. The video-sharing leviathan, whose parent company is Google, has gotten more than its feet wet in the waters of entertainment production by hiring professional writers, directors, and producers. Read more.

Social Signals Increasingly Vital to SEO Campaigns

As search engines give more and more weight to social signals such as likes, tweets, and Google +1s, search marketers do, too. Marketing Charts reports that 84 percent of search marketers say social signals will be more important to their SEO efforts this year as compared to last year, while 31 percent said social signals will be much more important this year as compared to 2011, according to a new survey by BrightEdge. The remaining group of respondents (16 percent) plan to maintain their efforts to these signals this year, revealing that 100 percent of the respondents believe that social signals will not be less important for their SEO efforts in 2012. Read more.

Myspace TV Coming to a Tablet Near You?

Justin Timberlake-endorsed Myspace is back on the scene, and it just may have beaten Apple and Google to a big consumer good: TV on the Web. Specific Media, Myspace’s current owner, issued a public statement concerning company plans to make the service available by early this year. Their idea is to offer network and cable content on any device with a screen and an Internet connection. The big announcement was made at the Consumer Electronics Show going on right now in Las Vegas, Nevada. In a subsequently published press release, company scribes say that the first channels to be offered by Myspace’s new service will tap deep into Myspace’s immense music video library. Read more.


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