Matt Cutts and SEO Myths

Matt Cutts posted another video answering a question from a webmaster.  Ryan from Michigan asked him to list the biggest SEO myths.  Matt jumped right in laughing and saying that there is no boost in organic ranking from running an AdWords campaign.  Weeelllll… you don’t get a direct boost, but you do get what I would call “indirect extra credit”.

Here’s why: as soon as you turn on AdWords you’re getting traffic from a specific keyword hitting a page that is optimized for conversion, users are spending time on your site, conversion rate goes up, pageviews go up, time on site goes up, etc., etc.  All the little things are improved that tell Google that your site is relevant and useful to users searching for the keyword and so your organic ranking gets a boost.  I know this because it happened to a client of mine, and then we repeated it with a few others to prove it (no I’m not going to name them).  The first time I saw it was with a new client that wasn’t getting the kind of traffic they needed.  We did all of our optimization stuff and waited “long enough” for it to kick in. We were seeing the progress we expected from those efforts; a slow but steady increase in ranking and traffic.  A few months into the campaign we hadn’t cracked page one for some big keywords so we decided to start an AdWords campaign to get some extra traffic while we waited for organic ranking to improve.  Well, guess what – within a couple of days the client blasted up to #2 for their main keyword which just happened to be where most of their PPC money was focused.  There was no algo change announced.  There was no major shift in the results for that keyword and there was no across-the-board increase in ranking for my client, just the one keyword.  This was very unexpected, so I tried it again, and again and it worked every time.

Aside from the indirect “extra credit” boost, the only times we see sudden jumps in organic ranking is when we fix technical problems that otherwise held the site back from achieving it’s “true” ranking.  It’s easy to point to that kind of a change by analyzing server logs.  The AdWords “extra credit” does not have the same signature.  It is just a boost from running a good AdWords campaign.  Period.

Regarding AdWords, Matt also said “We wanna return really good search results to users so that they’re happy so that they’ll keep coming back.”  He then said “We’re not going to make an algorithmic change to drive people to ads.”  That’s true, Google doesn’t change the organic ranking algorithm to drive people to ads, they change the layout of the results pages to make paid ads more prominent.  Check out my post that shows only 5/41 links above the fold take you off Goolge’s site for a very clear example of what I’m talking about.  It’s real hard not to click a link that makes money for Google there.  Go ahead, try and convince me that wasn’t intended to drive people o click paid ads. Does Matt Cutts have any control over page layout?  I seriously doubt it.  He’s head of the “Defense Against Spammers” team, not the “Change the Layout to Maximize Profits from Paid Advertisements” team.  I think that’s headed by Larry.

You have to take what Matt says with a grain of salt. He’s a master of misdirection and ambiguity. Don’t let his smooth smile or charming demeanor fool you – he is extremely intelligent and chooses his words very carefully.  He is a very nice guy and I really believe he thinks what he is doing is, first and foremost, in the best interest of the user.  (Good user experience = more pageviews & more ad clicks.)  During the “pre-Cuttlet” era, Matt was always lovely to talk to. He’s witty, funny, and generally a good guy to be around.  He never struck me as the malicious type.  He has to tread lightly so he doesn’t expose unpatched weaknesses in the ranking algo.  I don’t blame him for that at all – I’d do the same.

Ok, so I made up the screenshot - oh well.

Yes, Photoshop was involved…

 

Google Error

I saw something the other day that made me smile.  Whoever made the Google 404 page went a little fast on the title tag and released the Shift key before they were done entering exclamation points.

Check out the extra 1 on the end.

Check out the 1 on the end

 

Google Hates Sharing Data

I missed this article during the hustle and bustle of Christmas, and I’m thinking that was what Google hoped would happen.  I’m sure they hoped people would be too distracted to see the news that Google was going to ruin email marketing to Gmail users.  Here’s the important part of the article:

“…Google has just announced a move that will [...] cache all images for Gmail users. Embedded images will now be saved by Google, and the e-mail content will be modified to display those images from Google’s cache, instead of from a third-party server. E-mail marketers will no longer be able to get any information from images…”

So what?  Well, just like [not provided], Google is disconnecting marketers from their target audience and effectively making them blind to a very important piece of data: open rate. When marketing emails are opened their images are downloaded from the email marketing company’s server with a special image call.  The special image call sends back information about you including your IP, email address, a timestamp, etc.  That tells the email marketing company that you opened an email and viewed their offer which gives them an “open rate”.  Since Google is going to cache all images on their own servers and display the cached images in Gmail, the email marketing company will no longer receive information about who has opened their emails and will no longer get good “open rate” information.  With an email campaign it’s really important to understand the number of people who opened an email vs. the number of people who clicked a link.  Since Google is going to cache the images, the only way the email marketing company can tell if someone has opened their email is if they click a link which makes Gmail’s open rate equal to click through rate.  If those two are equal it’s difficult to say if the email marketing company provided a compelling message because they won’t really know how many people opened an email vs. how many people engaged with it.

In a digital age, those who control the data, control the world.

Yep, that's Larry.

Google Strikes Out Against Organic Again

In a never-ending onslaught against “free” organic listings, Google continues to push the top organic spot further and further down the page.  I’ve even seen reports that some searches have no organic results above the fold.  I first posted about this topic back in March of 2012 when I posted screenshots of how much the results had shifted down over a couple of years.  In March of 2010, the #1 organic listing was 138px from the top of the browser.  In March of 2012 it had dropped down to 296px.  In the screenshot below, Google has dropped the #1 organic listing down to 706px from the top of the page.  If that weren’t bad enough, Google is also inserting image results below the #1 ranking making #2 166px further down the page and ensure only one organic result shows up above the fold.

Google puts more self-promotion above organic results.

Google puts more self-promotion above organic results.

Google is pushing their paid platforms hard by devaluing organic listings which forces more and more webmasters to try to get clicks from paid services like Adwords and Product Search. The image below shows how many links on the page drive users into other Google properties instead of to someone’s site.  Only 13% of the links above the fold for this query lead off Google’s “property”.

Only 5/41 of the links in this screenshot take you off Google's site.

Only five out of the 41 links in this screenshot take you off Google’s site.

I don’t expect this to end anytime soon. I think that in two or three years Google won’t provide any organic listings on the first page of results.

Google and Facebook Killing Load Times

A client launched a new website and we’re helping them make it as fast as possible.  Google’s Page Speed Insights is great at analyzing the code on the page to tell you where you can make improvements, but it doesn’t pay any attention to things like DNS lookup, server response times, connection types, server locations, etc. For more in-depth evaluation of page speed I like to use WebPageTest.org.  During today’s test I found that the worst offending response times are  from Google and Facebook!  Check out the image below to see how much of a time-suck they are when you use their +1 and “Like” buttons on your site.  My favorite part is that Facebook is calling Ireland to serve up some content.  Really Facebook?  Ireland??

Facebook "Like" and Google +1 calls account for 3,595ms of load time per page for my client's site. (click for a larger view)

Facebook “Like” and Google +1 calls account for 3,595ms of load time per page for my client’s site. (click for a larger view)