In a great video about what Google knows about spam, Matt Cutts explained that optimizing a website for search engines is not the same as spamming them. This inspired me to elaborate on this theme by explaining the difference between search engine optimization and spam for three top optimization techniques.
1. Adding keywords to the page:
2. Cultivate inbound links to your site:
3. Add content and pages to increase keyword reach in search engines:
Ultimately, any technique that provides benefit and clarity to your visitors about the topic of your site is likely to do the same for search engines. Not only that but as you build trust with your visitors, you build trust with search engines too. Over time, that translates into long term rankings and consistent traffic and isn’t that what we all want in the end?
Building a crawlable website is one of the most important things you can do to have success in search engine results pages. After all, if the search engines can’t find your pages, they won’t be listing them. Make no mistake. Google wants to find your pages. Finding every page of the internet is the ultimate goal of all serious web crawler designers and there are numerous articles (both web and print) devoted to their quest to crawl the deep web. Last week Google announced a major step forward in their quest to do just that by searching within the form element on web pages — in other words, searching with the “Search” box on your site. At present, they are restricting this to a few high profile sites, so the average site owner does not have to worry too much but this new development has caused some concern in the internet community.
The main concern of most webmasters on hearing this news was the duplicate content issue. Any SEO friendly website already tries to make their site accessible to Google by providing accessible links. If search engines are going to make random searches using the search button, there could be a lot of duplicate pages created by search queries that don’t have a result. Some search forms like this one shown below give the user pre-set choices to make search easier. If Google tries every possible search that could be created using a search form like this, a great many pages could be created especially if they input potential keywords.
Google claims that sites won’t be penalized for the content found by search engines but some webmasters might want to reconsider the way their sites display content. For example, Google’s Matt Cutts has recommended in the past that pages that consist only of search results not be used as targets for search. The fact that Google can now find these pages for themselves means that while the pages that they find when Google searches forms may not be competing with your real pages, what Google considers a real page might be up for debate. This is just one more reason to create pages with real content and when displaying product lists, always make sure to supplement it with at least one paragraph of plain text content, summarizing the overall theme of the page. Not only will your real pages be distinguished from your plain search pages but it will be much easier to optimize your pages for your targeted keywords.
Image search relevance is not something that we think about very often, but as Karen Umpierre noted recently, image search is getting smarter. Google can look inside images and tell the difference between faces and non-faces … well, usually. Occasionally a non-face slips in but it’s pretty impressive. This brings up the question of the future of search. Will there come a day when we won’t have to put 200 words of text on a page for it to rank well for relevance in a search query? The answer may be yes because new search engine technologies are emerging that take search into the images themselves. Instead of image search using text, we have visual search using images.
Maybe the most exciting new visual search idea is Nokia’s wireless Point & Find where a user just takes a picture and gets relevant information about the image based on information on the internet — including location, price, etc. While this is very much an emerging technology, it could very well change the way people shop. Imagine seeing some shoes you like at a party and being able to find them using your wireless device’s built-in search. Nokia claims this technology is at least three years away, but in the meantime, there are some visual search engines available now.
One that deserves special mention is Like.com because it is the first engine that is actually using visual search to help shoppers find what they want. For example, let’s say I want to buy some shoes. I go to the shoes section of Like.com and find a style that I like. Then I just click on the button marked Visual Search. This gives me a display of shoes that all resemble the shoes that I chose grouped by “overall matches”, “style matches”, “brand matches” and “color matches”. The most interesting aspect is the opportunity to refine my search by selecting a portion of the original image.
I just draw a box around the part of the image that I most want to match and Like.com gives me a new result. Like.com has just recently launched a new site after a lengthy beta period so we’re interested in seeing how well the new site is received. Will shoppers take to it? One problem may be that, as we noted with Google’s face search, the results aren’t perfect. For example, one of the top ten results for my search for matches to that spiky heel was this wedge heeled number. Of course, it is a high wedge — sort of spiky as wedges go and roughly the same shape as the heel of the shoe I selected so maybe this is just the visual search algorithm’s interpretation of my query. This brings me to the point of my post today — image relevance.
Just because a search engine uses a different point of reference (shape, color, style as opposed to words) doesn’t mean that we can stop worrying about relevance. If visual search becomes more prevalent, search engine optimization may actually become even more complicated with considerations of image quality, angle and other visually based factors coming to the fore. Furthermore, even Like.com relies on linguistic navigation to subsidize their product search and this is unlikely to change. So, if you were waiting around for the image search technology to get better before you optimized your site for keyword relevance, we would recommend that you not wait because whether it’s images or text, making your pages relevant to search queries will always matter.