Google is most definitely split testing search results and has probably been split testing for the whole of 2010 – I may have taken almost a year to write about it, but I’ve been watching intently as the “Google Dance” starts to make a lot of sense. In the old days the “Google Dance” was a result of different Google servers being out of sync, which may be why this SEO split testing phenomenon has gone un-noticed.
The theory is this – Google is actively displaying conversion rates from “SERP” to “Click” in Google Webmaster Tools. They have the data and now they are measuring the data. I’ve started to notice the data being fed back into the SERPS and small changes to page titles and meta descriptions are having disproportional results in rankings.
It makes complete sense – Google wants to display the most relevant result, so why not let the user choose? Google has been dropping hints “Meta Descriptions no longer matter for SEO, instead use them to sell the click” etc, this is a very positive move for SEO as it detracts from the spam and increases focus on the real websites.
In this SEO Guide for 2011, unlike last year, a humble user can favourite web pages in the search results – I’ve found just a small number of glowing yellow stars makes a difference to search results. Again it makes complete sense – it’s like the social search engine concept I’ve been harping on about for the past 2-3 years. Beyond on-page SEO and Link Building, the only other data Google can gain to best serve results, is user generated. Like on Digg, Facebook, Youtube, and etc, users vote/like/digg up (or down) a story, video, item and now, search result.
Yes – I have been automating voting on Google
Synonym Match / Tense Match / Plural & Singular Match
In 2009 and 2010 people have been buying up all the keyword domains in the world – even the most obscure long tail keyword with little over 400 searches a month will have no available exact match domain names. That’s because they are too powerful.
But in 2011 (and for the sake of this pages SEO, I’m just going to write “SEO Guide for 2011” again) – Google is starting to share results for synonym matches. If you search for “Car Leases”, Google will highlight both the word “Car” and the word “Leasing” – which isn’t exactly what you searched for… Interesting huh?
I’m guessing the new domain name land rush in 2011 will be for synonym/plural/singular and tense match domain names.
Exact Match Domain Names
My prediction for exact match domains in this SEO guide for 2011, is that exact match domains are far less powerful than they once were, and this trend will continue. Joe Bloggs and his $25k could buy a nice big juicy keyword domain name and up pops a new $1mil business over-night.
I theorise that beyond a certain competition level, exact match domains offer a diminishing return. So in a tiny market your exact match domain might get you to the top with 10 links vs the competitions 1000, but in bigger markets you’ll need 9010 links to the competitions 10,000.
It makes sense, since it is against Googles best interests to make it so easy to rank.
I’m theorising this year, that TLD’s other than .com .net etc, are just as good as any other TLD, but they loose the keyword match domain bonuses. With that in mind any old domain name, including .info’s and .biz’s, can be just as powerful with the right content and promotion. This theory is based on my experience with a few “bad” TLD domains, which aren’t really all that bad after all.
My SEO guide for 2011 is based on experience, and in my experience SEO “Guru’s” are very so far behind the times its dangerous.
I’m going to pick on Leslie Rohde for a second – not because it’s anything personal, but because Leslie Rohde is the Guru’s Guru. I heard an interview with him earlier this year where he said in one breath “Blog Commenting doesn’t work because of no-follow linking” and in the next breath “Blog commenting is good because you get into RSS feeds” – Which is it Leslie?
Blog commenting does work, firstly because “no-follows” don’t mean anywhere near as much as they used to (inter-site) and secondly because yes, RSS feeds are powerful.
But the reason I’ve decided to single Leslie Rohde out above anybody else, is because while researching this SEO guide for 2011 I had a look at his website. If you have correct plugins install you’ll immediately notice that Leslie is linking internally with no-follow links… bad bad bad – more on this to follow. (Image below, no-follow links highlighted in pink)
I’ve spoken to far too many Guru’s that aren’t implementing anything they are harping on about – this really does my head in. SEO Companies are just as bad, I had a similar experience with “The top SEO Company in the USA” where they were destroying one of the UK’s top 50 websites with Internal no-follow linking.
Guru’s generally make too much money teaching and don’t implement for themselves. And in this fast pasted industry that just leaves them in the dust of the practitioners. SEO Companies make too much money selling rubbish, so they continue selling rubbish because it makes them money. Can’t blame them really.
Any internal no-follow links are bad for your site. No-Follow was created to mean “I don’t trust this”, so you aren’t sending out a very good message if you are “not trusting” pages on your own website. Stop trying to trick the search engines, because you are just shooting yourself in the foot (Sorry to pick on you again Leslie Rohde)
External no-follow links (links to sites other than your own, or links from other sites to your own) are far far far more powerful than they used to be. The no-follow attribute has been relaxed substantially in the past few years for links to external sources.
There is a very firm distinction to make between internal no-follow links and external no-follow links. I wish more people had a brain cell and could tell the difference.
Time seems to be becoming an ever more powerful SEO factor. Some of my sites have huge back-link counts, indexed page counts, keyword densities, PR, etc… but there will be one little website above mine with 70 back links, no page rank, a few hundred indexed pages, and not all that good on-page SEO. The only barrier between them and myself is time.
It seems 6 months is the amount of time it takes to have your site taken seriously (without some big time exposure) – 12 months before you start cracking top positions, and depending on the market up to 2-5 years for major positions on major keywords.
I think it’s fair to say Google is mindful of the power it holds over companies and won’t just dump you out of the rankings if you’ve been there for a while and get good CTR’s. This creates a new barrier to entry for our new websites.
In general a site can have a lot of power, which will get you ranking for a lot of longtail keywords, but you still won’t rank for the top level keywords regardless of the competition. All you can do is continue pushing and pushing, eventually you will crack it.
Is this because most SEO’s are only targeting 10-25 keywords at a time and Google is weighting against this phenomenon? Or maybe Google has a conscience and wants to give those companies slow on the uptake, a chance to protect themselves.
Google mobile is consistently showing different results to “normal google”. With mobile browser usage growing rapidly this is a big deal. I’ve found that simple pages rank better in Google Mobile, and especially if they have a specific mobile front end.
Google Instant and Instant Previews
It’s becoming more important to rank for shorter keywords because many people aren’t typing complete keyword strings if they find what they are looking for. Further, Google is jumping to conclusions more and more as we begin to type, which may mean they are shifting away from delivering traffic for one word keywords, towards slightly longer keywords.
As for instant previews, these are making it far more important to make your website visually appealing.
It feels strange saying this, but design is now an SEO factor… ewww, that does feel strange, and goes completely against what every decent SEO has been saying for the past 10 years.
Site performance has been touted as a big factor, however in every single test I’ve done this isn’t really strictly true.
Instead it seems there is a threshold. If you site takes longer than 5-10 seconds to load, then you may be penalised, but any quicker than that and it doesn’t make “fanny adams” of a difference if it loads in 100th of a second, or two seconds.
My speculative theory for 2010 was “Reverse page rank” – In this seo guide for 2011 I’ve got a new theory.
Different algorithms for different SERP positions! For example, position 1 might be for the most powerful domain over-all, position two might be for the most powerful on-page SEO, position 3 might be for the strongest back link profile, position 4 might be for a sub-page of a majorly powerful site, position 5 for the site with the most indexed pages etc.
To be honest I think this theory goes hand in hand with Google’s split testing, and I’m starting to see trends which suggest there are certain opportunities for websites which lack in a certain area, but are strong in other areas, to take a top position.
It makes perfect sense in an age where some people are hammering SEO so extremely hard in various different ways, while other genuine companies are losing out on traffic because their SEO firm is rubbish, or because they aren’t expending income on SEO.
This theory still needs some more thought, but there is some decent logic behind the idea. SERP Results need to be accurate and varied enough to provide the answer for anybody looking.
2010 SEO Guide – In Review
What did I say last year? And how did it turn out?
Time – An even more major factor in the SEO Guide for 2011
User Experience – Again, this is becoming more important with split testing and google instant previews.
Black Hat/Gray Hat/White Hat – Its far more difficult to pull a penalty these days – probably because it used to be far too easy to kick a competitor in the balls in the past.
Reverse Page Rank – Jury is still out on this one, have to wait and see for conclusive test data
Variation – Extremely important still.
Content – A sheer quantity of content is now more important than ever
Ramp – You still need to ramp up your SEO campaigns and build on them continually – stop watering your SEO plant and it will die.
PR Sculpting – forget about it, stop trying to play games and just do things right.
The SEO guide for 2011 is far more focused on user experience than in 2010. This makes a lot of sense considering us SEO’s are spamming links and over-seo’ing our pages, trying every trick in the book to get ranked higher.
Exactly the same conclusions are drawn as last year, be resilient and focus on these core things:
1. User Experience
2. On-Page SEO and Internal Linking
3. Building Backlinks.
Merry Christmas – Happy New Year – Good luck with your SEO in 2011!