SitePoint Podcast #85: Back to the Future
Episode 85 of The SitePoint Podcast is now available! This week your hosts are Patrick O’Keefe (@iFroggy), Stephan Segraves (@ssegraves), Brad Williams (@williamsba) and Kevin Yank (@sentience). They are joined by special guest Kristen Holden (@kholden), author of the SEO Business Guide.
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Here are the topics covered in this episode:
- Google Engineer Builds Facebook Disconnect (TechCrunch)
- Extensions Finally Arrive in Opera 11 (SitePoint)
- Is hiding text with CSS to improve accessibility bad for SEO? (456 Berea Street)
- 2010 Google Holiday Relevancy Algorithm Update? (SEO Book)
Browse the full list of links referenced in the show at http://delicious.com/sitepointpodcast/85.
- Kevin: A Pixelated World: Pixel Art Websites
- Patrick: Back to the Future 25th Anniversary
- Brad: MapCrunch / Sears for Zombies
- Stephan: Scrabb.ly – a massively multiplayer online crossword puzzle
Kevin: October 29, 2010. A Google engineer disconnects from Facebook; extensions come to Opera 11; and a dramatic drop in traffic hints at a major Google algorithm change. I’m Kevin Yank and this is the SitePoint Podcast #85: Back to the Future.
It is a cast of thousands on the SitePoint Podcast here today. We’ve got our usual co-hosts, Patrick, Brad, Stephan, how’s it going?
Stephan: It’s going well.
Patrick: It’s going well.
Kevin: I feel so far away from you right now.
Brad: I miss you guys.
Patrick: It’s all downhill from here.
Kevin: Yeah, we had our live broadcast at BlogWorld Expo I guess two weeks ago now, though it went out on the feed for our regular listeners last Friday, and got some really good feedback. I’ve been told by several people that the noise wasn’t too bad, it felt active, it felt like they were right there with us, and speaking from my own part it was great to have you guys right there, we could use hand gestures and everything. It felt like we were more in sync than ever.
Patrick: It was a lot of fun.
Kevin: Yeah. But we have to move past that, we’re back to our usual MO here of Skyping across the world, but I do have someone right next to me and that is Kristen Holden. Hi Kristen.
Kristen: How you doing Kev?
Kevin: Kristen is the author of SitePoint’s about to be released SEO Business Guide. Kristen, why don’t you tell us a bit about that product and what went into it.
Kristen: Sure, okay. Well, this is sort of the book’s designed around the premise that web developers and small business owners should be able to do SEO for themselves, so it’s sort of designed with that in mind where people can, you know, it’s a natural add-on for every kind of person who’s already involved in the Internet and wants to invest in their own business, so we sort of try and teach people the basics, move through to some more advanced topics and sort of tell them how to run their own business and add that on as a service. So that’s sort of the way it works, and it works from basics to advanced, how to run your business and hopefully setting people up to earn some more revenue from an add-on service.
Kevin: Right, and I’ve seen the preview copy floating around the office, this is one of SitePoint’s kits so it’s one of these big, glossy binders.
Kristen: Yeah, correct; a bunch of templates and all that kind of stuff involved as well, email templates, PowerPoint templates, all this kind of stuff to actually go out there and do it.
Kevin: So not available in stores, you’d have to order that one directly from us, and that is going on sale I think we’re announcing it next Tuesday, but if you’re sneaky and you look at the show notes you will find a link to get in early and get one of the first copies if you’re especially keen to check that out. We’ve got a couple of SEO related stories later in the show, and Kristen I’m sure you’ll be chiming in on that but feel free to chat about anything you like here on the show.
Kristen: Okay, great.
Kevin: We’ve got our first story which is a Google engineer who has written in his spare time, I understand, an extension for Chrome called Facebook Disconnect. Brad, this is your story, why don’t you take us through it.
Brad: Yeah, that’s right, Kevin, so Google engineer Brian Kennish decided he was basically tired of every website he visited passing data back to Facebook. So as you know every website that has a Facebook ‘Like’ button or a Facebook Connect or any type of Facebook embed essentially is passing data back to Facebook about you. So Brian was tired of it so he built a pretty cool extension for Chrome that actually prevents the sending of all data back to Facebook, and I installed it and ran it and it’s actually pretty slick, I was impressed at how well it worked. Did you guys get a chance to check it out, for the Chrome users that is?
Patrick: We know who that was aimed at.
Kevin: I’m not sure there are any other Chrome users here. Kristen’s running Chrome here.
Kristen: I use Chrome but I haven’t checked it out yet, guys.
Kevin: Brad, what do you think of the extension?
Brad: It’s pretty neat because it’s as simple as it could be. From what I’ve read he wrote this in one day, very basic, you install it, there’s no options; the only way to get to it is through the extension manager and it’s either on or off. And basically if it’s on it will just hide everything, it will stop the calls if there’s a ‘Like’ button present in the Header of a site or really anywhere on the site it will hide it, it won’t even show it. A lot of the sites that have these big ‘see what your friends are saying on Facebook’, these big boxes like TechCrunch and CNN, they’re just big white blank areas now, so it essentially just hides everything, but it does allow you to go to Facebook.com so it doesn’t block you completely, it just blocks data being passed to Facebook. So it’s certainly an interesting idea.
Kevin: There are a few extensions like this floating around that people use to block various aspects of their web experience. I know I use ClickToFlash to prevent Safari from loading Flash movies by default, and then you build up a white list of sites where you actually don’t mind the Flash they use, and if there’s a Flash movie sitting in the page you want to see on the page you just click it, that’s a great extension that’s available for a few browsers. This one it doesn’t really have that; does it leave an empty box on the page or do those elements just not exist?
Brad: Yeah, it literally would just turn into like a white box. Assuming because the styles are set up to size that box but that’s how it works.
Patrick: We need more white space, so install that.
Kevin: (Laughs) White space is better than Facebook space. I think a few people would be smiling in irony at this that a Google engineer for a Google browser is worried about Facebook having too much information about you. I know that’s something we worry about, that Google has too much information about us.
Brad: And he was very clear that he said nobody at Google asked him to do this, he basically did it on his own time, so this is definitely not sanctioned by Google but he’s one of their employees and they’re not telling him not to do it, so.
Kevin: Do any of you guys use any other sort of blocking plugins that take pieces out of web pages or force web pages to be displayed with or without things you like?
Patrick: No, I honestly don’t block a single thing. I have fundamental disagreements with the idea of ad blockers in general, so I would never use, but speaking of other elements…
Kevin: Tell us about that.
Patrick: Well, no, I just think it’s, well, for me there’s a concern ethically as far as obviously websites where you enjoy their content. Most people need to make money and most people can’t dedicate their lives to something they cannot gain some sort of remuneration from. So, yeah, that’s my kind of belief on that; if I am visiting a website then they should be able to monetize that visit, that’s kind of my belief, but other than that I don’t block anything, I don’t really have any trouble with really any elements on the page, Facebook doesn’t bother me. I’ve talked about how I don’t like to have everything up in the Cloud, but I’m not quite to the paranoia where Facebook fan page boxes bother me. I’m kidding, that’s a joke.
Kristen: I’d say I’m the same as that to be honest.
Kevin: Oh, yeah?
Kristen: I run enough plugins for my SEO stuff that I don’t really want to bog my browsers down with a bunch of blocking apps and whatever else.
Kristen: Absolutely, but I think that the classic case is that people that have, you know, there’s all the Facebook paranoia which generally a lot of developers have, to be honest, that’s a pretty good section of people, but every average person you talk to doesn’t care, sort of thing; I really can’t see these kinds of applications going beyond the sort of scope of people who are really heavily into developing websites, to be honest, just from a poll of people I know, I guess.
Kevin: So, this story that we read about this is on TechCrunch, and you mentioned, Brad, I think, that TechCrunch uses one of these Facebook boxes. They’re a little clever in the story; they tested it “on, uh, Huffington Post and found that it worked” (laughter).
Patrick: Right. They include a screenshot obviously; you have to go to the site to get all of the humor here, but yes.
Kevin: (Laughs) Moving on, we’re talking about browser extensions here, and Opera has announced the next version of the Opera browser will have extensions as well, so we can look forward to blocking our Facebooks and Flash movies in Opera as well very soon. Guys, it’s been a little while since we talked about Opera, and I don’t know, what’s your take on it? I asked you guys to take a look at the current version of Opera in preparation for this show; any surprises when you did?
Stephan: I downloaded the Alpha, I guess it’s 11, Opera 11.
Kevin: Oh, of 11? You’re way ahead of me, I’m still in 10.63.
Stephan: I downloaded 10.63 first and then downloaded the Alpha on a different machine, and I like it, I think there’s a lot going on in the screen though, like there’s a lot of stuff that it seems frivolous compared to say Chrome or even Safari; I think there’s just so much—
Patrick: Every time you highlight a link there’s that box that pops up, right, it’s like a flashing, you go over links and that bottom left area is constantly flashing.
Stephan: Yeah, yeah, it kind of bugs me because it draws my attention to it instead of what I’m doing. I don’t know, I mean it was fast but there’s little things that would just annoy me if I used it all the time I think. So I tried to use it all day today, Kevin, I tried to be a good researcher and use it all day long, and I got so sick of it around 3:00 o’clock I just said, ah, you can’t do this anymore. So, switched back to Chrome.
Brad: Yeah, it may not be as exciting but I was impressed at how fast it installed. I mean I literally clicked install and, boom, it was done and popped right up; I thought it was pretty impressive.
Stephan: Yeah, it was pretty fast.
Brad: And then I realized that was one of the points on their blog post for 11 Alpha was about the installer was rebuilt, but it was noticeably faster, it was actually crazy how fast it installed.
Patrick: Yeah, I played around with it too and I installed some extensions, which are sort of the buzz thing. Now I tried one extension that allows you to edit a website like it’s a text editor, like you can just edit the page, right. So I went to the podcast site and changed a few podcast title headlines around and whatnot, “Patrick O’Keefe is the greatest podcast host ever”, it’s the new title on our first post. But, no, I tried also Facebook Chat and I found that it was dropping messages when I tried to chat with people on Facebook, so that experience wasn’t all that great. But, I think it is attractive looking, it’s visually appealing, it does seem quick, but I guess I kind of agree with the point that Craig Buckler makes on SitePoint Blogs with Can Opera Raise its Marketshare?, what is kind of the killer Opera thing. For me browsers have always been a “well if I’m liking this one and I don’t see something that’s huge and shiny over there I’m just gonna stick with this one.” That’s why I didn’t change from IE for a long time until I changed to Firefox, because I liked Firefox’s development tools and some of the add-ons; there was enough there where I said finally, okay, I want to move over, so now I’m a Firefox user. But if you’re comfortable in your browser like I think a majority of people are, and we had that survey we talked about where, I don’t know, what was it eight percent knew what a browser was? I think people will stick with what they have unless there’s some huge giant feature there, I just don’t see that with Opera, but Opera’s always kind of been a niche browser anyway.
Kevin: Well, Opera’s certainly trying with the features. As you say, with the window, especially when you first open it it’s just festooned with widgets of all sorts of mysterious icons that you could spend a week exploring the Opera browser and still not see every feature in there is what it feels like sometimes. And I do have to congratulate them that despite the number of features it is amazingly fast. Down to the— There’s a big argument going on in the comment thread to that blog post by Craig Buckler that you mentioned, Patrick, over just which browser is ahead of which. But the fact that cases are able to be made on each side it’s coming down to like micro benchmarks to try and judge these things. It speaks very well of Opera that it can hold its own against browsers developed by huge companies like Google, like Microsoft, like Apple, and it’s right up there. And whereas browsers like Chrome they seem to be chopping back on features and simplifying mercilessly in order to focus on that speed; Opera seems to be able to prioritize speed and features at the same time. So if you want a browser that has as many features as possible without sacrificing speed Opera is there, but for me it’s less about the number of features that are in the browser, it’s that one feature that you absolutely must have that needs to be in there, and that’s going to be different from person to person. That’s why the extensions API is so important.
Brad: Did anyone else notice that the extensions URL actually includes both the words ‘add-ons’ and ‘extensions’? You’ve got to wonder if that was intentional.
Kevin: Well, it’s a bit like that in Firefox as well, you know, there are add-ons for Firefox and one type of add-on is an extension, so I guess they’re probably using the same naming convention there.
Patrick: I did really like how they did the top of the design though, the whole, the tabs and how it fits tightly with that little menu button, I think that’s really attractive and a great use of space.
Kevin: I’ve made that all go away (Laughter).
Patrick: Even that.
Brad: You know one very minor feature I notice, and honestly I’m not sure if this is an Opera 11 feature or if it was also in 10, but I thought it was really slick, and basically when you open up a new tab, you know, you click a link and open into a new tab, it actually when the tab finishes loading a little blue dot will appear on the tab, and at first I wasn’t sure what exactly that was but it basically means the page is finished loading. So you’re not clicking over to the tab until you know its done loading, so you’re not wasting your time waiting for it to load; I thought that was really slick.
Kevin: It’s also like an unread indicator I think. So if you open a whole bunch of tabs in the background you can see which ones you’ve read.
Brad: And it goes away when you view it, yeah, I thought that was pretty slick. I mean a lot of times I’ll open tabs and I’ll click on them thinking they’re loaded and they’re not and I’m sitting there waiting a few seconds while they finish loading. So it’s a pretty neat little feature.
Kristen: There’s a plugin I use for Firefox which is very similar to that which has red for viewed, blue for unread, sort of whatever kind of tabbing, a visual way of viewing tabs which I find quite useful. So that’s pretty similar to that.
Kevin: So, in this blog post Craig Buckler says, “What would Opera have to do in order to raise its market share?” And he suggests just off the top of his head if Opera were to focus on tablets and become the browser that provides the best experience for tablets, tablet PCs, all of the iPad competitors that are no doubt coming out this Christmas and early next year, he says Opera should be front and center on those devices and if they did that they might be able to make a noticeable dent in the market. What do you guys think about that?
Brad: It’s not a bad idea. I mean I remember when Opera came out for the Wii, I really thought that was probably one of the most noticeable things that had happened for Opera to be the only browser on the Wii gaming console, and that could’ve been another market that they could have dominated and could have been the browser that’s across all the gaming consoles, but it seems like they’ve kind of stuck on the Wii and that’s been it.
Kevin: Yeah. And that’s something that Opera developer relations dude, I’m sorry I don’t have his exact title in front of me, but Chaals chimed in on this comment thread, this massive comment thread that followed on from his post, if you’re passionate about browsers and especially about Opera you need to be in this thread, but Chaales chimed in and said that they’ve been focusing on all sorts of devices, not necessarily tablets, although it is on their radar, but he mentions TV specifically. He also mentions auto browsers, so browsers in cars and browsers in airplane entertainment systems; these sorts of things they’re finding a great market for Opera. Now it’s not the kind of thing, these are the kind of applications that get Opera in the minds of consumers, but certainly the Wii is, and I agree the Opera experience on the Wii it’s a very nice browser, it certainly– I enjoyed using it more than the browser on my Playstation 3.
Patrick: (Laughs) I found that funny, sorry.
Kevin: (Laughs) What, you don’t browse on your game console, Patrick?
Patrick: No, I’m behind the times; I’m not even in the Cloud.
Kevin: (Laughs) Well, it’s a wonderful — especially that comment from Chaals, it’s a really good read to hear what they’re doing. Other things to point out about Opera is that they have huge market share on mobile phones, especially in countries where smartphones like iPhones and Android phones are not the norm, all of the sort of previous generation of phones, the best browser you can get for them, and invariably the browser that people install, is either Opera Mobile of Opera Mini, especially Opera Mini because it does the server side compression thing; a really great browser. But I was trying to think about what Opera could do in order to sway me on the desktop because that does feel like the missing component in what they’re doing, and I want to see them succeed there because they do obviously put so much work into their product, it is amazingly fast, its user interface has been radically revamped in Opera 10, and it’s as standards compliant as anything you’ll find out there, and yet its miniscule market share at least when you look at it worldwide… I think the extensions are a great start because I also, Stephan, spent the day yesterday trying to use Opera as my primary browser, and the main things I missed were my Evernote and 1Password extensions. Opera does a great job of syncing all of your passwords with other Opera browsers, but as soon as you go cross browser, cross device you run into trouble there. So, I’m looking forward to a 1Password extension for Opera 11 which will no doubt come about now that that’s easy for the developers to do. But, I don’t know; what else, what could Opera do to differentiate themselves that other browsers aren’t focusing on?
Stephan: I don’t know, it’s a browser, you know, I mean how much more can you do?
Patrick: View websites here! Now the only place you can view websites, Opera.com!
Kevin: Right. I don’t know, their user interface style suggests to me that they want to be the glossy…
Patrick: The cool kid.
Kevin: There’s a lot going on in the Opera browser window, especially as it comes configured by default, maybe they should embrace that; when you load a web page things just kind of appear as they load, you know, maybe they could do some sort of, have things fade in or animate into the page as the page loads, that would be cool.
Stephan: So that they could become the Microsoft of web browsers?
Kevin: (Laughs) What do you mean Microsoft?
Stephan: No, just the fluff stuff, you know, why do we need this, I don’t know, some of the stuff in Windows 7 before I turned it off I had to think to myself why did they do this. So, I see what you’re saying but would you rather have that, do you think that’s really going to encourage people to download that browser? I don’t know, I think that speed is a huge thing and I think that Opera definitely has that going for them along with Chrome, so why not just stick to that and really increase the speed. I mean it’s already super fast, so I would keep up that, maybe simplify it a little bit, maybe add a little feature here and there that regular users would like and that’s about it. Keep working on the speed because that was the thing that got me today, even like Brad said the install speed was super quick and browsing a website was really fast.
Patrick: I don’t know much about Opera so maybe they already do this, but I mean maybe they should just embrace their smallness, I mean you don’t have to necessarily be the largest market share player, but if they embrace that smallness and make themselves the most accessible browser to people who want to offer suggestions and feedback. It’s not always easy to get a suggestion to, you know, people at IE or maybe Firefox because they have so many things to think about with the larger market share, but Opera might be able to embrace the smaller community and play that up and love the people you have and go from there. They might already be doing that but that’s just an idea.
Kristen: Has anybody else been playing with Chrome Instant in your browser?
Kevin: You mean Google Instant Search?
Kristen: Instant Search but directly from within Chrome.
Kevin: No, I saw the announcement of that. Brad, you would’ve seen that I suppose.
Brad: Um, no, I haven’t. I didn’t know that was coming.
Kristen: It’s actually on Beta already on PC so at home I’ve been using it quite often.
Kevin: Oh, so it’s just the Beta.
Kevin: Alright, tell us how it works.
Kristen: Well, pretty much as Google Instant, as you type it predicts what you’re trying to type and will conduct that query straight away and show you results.
Kevin: So the page just like with Google Instant Search the search results page in your browser window is updating as you type?
Kristen: And local search as well, so it searches your computer and history if you want it to at the same time but instantly.
Kevin: So how does this work if you’re looking at a web page in your browser and you’re using it to read something that you are then basing your search query on as you type it into the search box.
Kristen: There’s a few things like that which need to be ironed out I think, so yeah, it does sort of overwrite at the moment.
Kevin: Right. Interesting.
Kristen: It’s very cool functionality once you sort of — I’ve become used to Google Instant from a browser perspective so for me it’s actually quite handy.
Kevin: I was saying last time we talked about Google Instant Search that it wasn’t working for me here in Australia.
Kristen: You had to be logged in I think.
Kevin: Yeah, even then, I logged in, I enabled it, it wasn’t working; but then I went to the United States for BlogWorld Expo last week and I saw it, and let’s just say I didn’t like it.
Patrick: The whole reason for coming.
Patrick: Researching Google Instant.
Kevin: I had to see it!
Kristen: It takes a bit of getting used to, to be honest, and it’s sort of a bit up in the air about there’s been some research around whether it’s affecting people the way they search or not. To me it’s more of a mental thing, I see the predicted query and sometimes it affects what I think I’m searching for, you know, in my brain, my train of thought changes somewhat.
Kristen: But, yeah, it will be interesting to see how it plays out.
Kevin: Hmm-mm. So our next story, and we’re into these search stories here, this is something that I saw a couple of weeks ago and I knew Kristen was going to be on so I wanted to save it. And this is from our friend Roger Johansson over at 456 Berea Street, he asks, Is hiding text with CSS to improve accessibility bad for SEO? He’s well known as an accessibility sort of web standards nut, and in those circles it is common practice to include in your HTML markup headings that are just there as labels for screen reader users. And then in your CSS you kick those headings off the left of the page so they are not visible for users who are browsing the Web and viewing it with their eyes in their browser. And he said he got some advice or read some advice saying that this was a bad thing for SEO because Google was going to identify that that text was being hidden with CSS and would penalize if not completely blacklist your site as a result. Now this was a concerning thing for him to read because I know I do the exact same thing, this is common practice for web designers who want to go the extra mile for accessibility. What’s your take on this Kristen?
Kristen: I’ve just read through the article quickly now and I think that this — the person commenting is probably thinking of the way it used to be when you put white text, white background, stuff keywords and all this kind of stuff where it actually did get penalized. This kind of stuff I’ve never seen a penalty applied for it, they’re smarter than that, it’s not a really simple thing. They don’t just look at your page, they sort of look at the layout of your page where content is, why the content’s there, if it’s hidden, if it’s hidden for a reason it’s different obviously. If things are going to pop up they’re technically hidden half the time as well, and there’s absolutely no issue with doing stuff like this I don’t think; Google’s pretty good at knowing what’s for accessibility and what’s for trying to spam your searches and stuff content in there really.
Kevin: Yeah, he goes on to cite the closest thing he could come to finding like official word for this in Google’s documentation, and this is in their article Hidden Text and Links on their Webmaster Central site. They say, “If your site is perceived to contain hidden text and links that are,” and here’s the important part, “deceptive in intent your site may be removed from the Google Index and will not appear in search results pages. When evaluating your site to see if it includes hidden text or links look for anything that’s not easily viewable by visitors of your site; are any text or links there solely for search engines rather than visitors.” So, yeah, I think they’re saying, look, we reserve the right to make a judgment call, but we are making a judgment call.
Kevin: And it’s going to be obvious the difference between a heading that’s there to stuff the page with keywords versus a heading that’s there to say, you know, this is the navigation bar, this is the content area, that sort of thing. Brad, do you use sort of off-left positioned headings like this in your design work when you’re doing a WordPress Theme?
Brad: I do similar things, in fact, I was working on a site today where we have the same type of set up but it’s for basically a newsletter signup overlay that shows up after a period of time when a visitor’s on a website, and it’s essentially inside the newsletter code and all the text and content is inside a
div that’s hidden by default with CSS. So it did bring up an interesting question, I mean I had heard of this too four or five, six years ago back when people were doing a lot of the black hat stuff with it, but from everything I’ve heard as long as you’re, like you said, as long as you’re not doing something malicious and intentionally deceptive then you should be okay. So, I’ve never really had an issue with it.
Kevin: There’s a decent comment thread on this post as well that references a couple of YouTube videos from Google’s Matt Cutts who generally talks about their anti-spam sort of measures and stuff like that. And it’s interesting reading especially because, you know, if you think this through it really would make no sense for Google to be that black and white with it, so to speak, because there are so many web design techniques now that rely on hidden text, I’m talking about image replacement would be the most common one where you want to replace your headings with images that provide a more stylized sort of presentation of that same text, whether it has some sort of visual treatment applied to it that you could only do in Photoshop or whether you’re just trying to use some font that isn’t available on the Web just yet. And those techniques hide text routinely. It’s not malicious; it’s not misleading; it’s certainly not to gain the system, but if Google were automatically detecting text that was not visible on the page these would run afoul of it as well. The Web is just too complicated and subtle for that sort of black and white ruling, and I think Google is smart enough to recognize that.
Kristen: A lot of Google’s patents around the spam kind of stuff or what weight they give to certain things rely on what’s called a reasonable surfer kind of thing, like if someone’s reasonably likely to see it or click on it or whatever, and it sort of analyzes that based on the position and what it looks like and the colors they’ve used, like if the colors match or if they contrast to each other, and you know there’s a whole bunch of things. And this kind of stuff if there was, all things being equal, if one person had this and one person didn’t maybe it might give a little tiny boost having those extra words in there or something, but it’s almost completely irrelevant I’d say, and there’s no penalties that would be applied.
Kevin: Do you have a sense, Kristen, as to whether there is any automated blacklisting or delisting going on or does it rely on someone making a complaint and then Google investigating it?
Kristen: No, no, there’s automated penalties that will get applied, you generally won’t get blacklisted though, I think once it gets to the point of blacklisting it gets escalated a bit. But, you know, you can get a ranking penalty for doing something wrong, and generally there might be seven positions for one thing or 20 for another, and you’re sort of — that’s the way as an SEO professional you can work out what the penalty is that’s been applied, like if you did something wrong all the rankings drop by a pretty standard number is the way it always has gone. Up until Caffeine that was; I haven’t really seen a lot of stuff, a lot of penalties recently, but that being said, well, apart from the algorithm update supposedly that’s coming with the next article we’re talking about.
Kevin: Yeah, let’s talk about that speaking of penalties, SitePoint’s been struggling for the past couple of weeks to identify the source of a dramatic drop in blog traffic that we’ve seen on our site, and it came right after we migrated the SitePoint Blogs to a new server infrastructure which changed the domain they were served from from www.sitepoint.com to www.sitepoint.com. Our developers did a lot of work and preparation to make sure that all the redirects were in place so that we would drop as little, if any, Google juice in this migration as possible. We expected a small dip but what we saw instead was a massive drop of at least a third of our traffic to those blogs if not more. And when we looked into our analytics it seems clear that Google was penalizing us for something. We spent time on working on improving the performance, we spent time chasing our tails making sure that the redirects were working, but what we discovered in the end was that it doesn’t look like it was our fault, right Kristen?
Kristen: It looks like it was sort of a perfect storm of random things that happened at the same time, a bit of a coincidence. So there’s the fact that we moved from /blogs to blogs., obviously it’s a big change from an SEO perspective, that can take a while to re-index everything. There was also a few performance issues when we first moved obviously. Things were running a bit slow, that’s now been fixed, but then more recently a lot of people, or the last three or four days especially, there’s been a lot of people complaining about none of their blog posts being indexed.
Kevin: Yeah, it wasn’t just us. There’s some really massive sites out here who’ve seen drops of — the story here at seobook.com cites a figure of a 60 to 85% drop?
Kristen: Yeah, I mean we’re talking about sites like CNN as well here where they were posting stuff and it wasn’t being indexed as well, so I mean there’s no official word that comes out that says it would affect the kind of stuff we’re talking about, but it seems like it’s too much of a coincidence, that it is something which affects indexing of blogs and obviously we’ve just moved so we’re relying on everything to be re-indexed so this definitely hasn’t helped. And like SEO Book here says there’s a bunch of examples, and if you read through some of the webmaster sites around there’s hundred and hundreds and hundreds of different sites complaining; most of the people are complaining that their blogs have gone from being indexed within 30 seconds of posting a new post to six hours, which obviously isn’t huge, but if you think about that on scale if every single site is taking 100 times longer to get indexed, the links that come from those sites are taking extra long and it sort of flows on, and I think it’s sort of everything ground to a halt. But it’s supposedly been fixed, I’ve seen from a couple of posts in the Google help forums, one of their engineers came out and said that they’ve fixed the issue, it may take a few days to start to flow through, but what it highlighted for me is how used to everything happening right away everyone is these days, you know, like when your site goes from being indexed in 20 seconds to being indexed in six hours and you’re outraged about it that shows how much we rely on people like Google being fast and working all the time. And as part of this post as well he’s theorized as well that it’s in the past it’s always sort of preceded a big algorithm update and they generally tend to do big updates around the holiday season as well, so this could actually be something of an actual shift in they way they’re categorizing some things as well.
Kevin: So what does that mean for those of us who aren’t — those of us who SEO is important to what we do but we don’t do SEO around the clock, what are we likely to see here?
Kristen: I’d say we’re likely to see things bounce back, it may — usually when they do one of these updates it’s generally not a positive thing, it’s not like oh, okay, these things are worth more, they generally have eliminated a whole subsection of the way people do SEO and say that this is bad. So, the value from that particular technique may be lost, so some sites I’ve seen reporting ranking drops from say a position one to page three for some of these massive terms they’ve ranked for for years.
Kevin: And these would be sites who have found some way of making their sites particularly attractive to Google. Would you say that someone who’s, you know, they’re just producing valuable content, they have no specific focus on SEO techniques so to speak, are they likely to see themselves penalized in an algorithm update?
Kristen: I think that for the most case those kinds of people would generally not be penalized. I mean if all you’re doing is creating good content, everything’s natural, there’s a 99% chance you’re going to be fine. And that’s why whenever I do things with any of the businesses in this building it’s always as white hat as it gets; it’s not worth risking that one little bit dodgy thing that potentially I’ve seen people’s sites get de-indexed altogether for one stupid little thing that’s happened. That being said, even a competitor I’ve seen people where their competitors have done something to their site, something of an off-page thing like buying a link to them or something and their site has been penalized and they have to try and get back in to the index. So, yeah, it’s difficult, but if people are just writing good content, doing the things the right way, worrying about their site architecture, getting the word out there, there’s no problems at all I wouldn’t think. In fact, those sites would get a higher preference in any algorithm update. The updates generally tend to be that they want people to be manipulated in the search results less I guess you could say is a good way to put it.
Kevin: Brad, how do you approach SEO when you’re building WordPress based sites for people, or is that something you expect them to tackle separately after you’ve given them the site?
Brad: I like to include at least a basic understanding of it, and my level of SEO expertise goes about as far as like title and meta tags, and a lot of it is accessibility in my opinion; when you’re adding content to your site and you think about creating things and making them accessible, adding descriptions to your alt tags, adding title tags, describing your links, adding proper title and meta tags, I mean I think that just those little things can go a really long way so I always like to train our clients in how to do simple things like that that aren’t too advanced where they can still do them on a daily basis.
Kevin: So this algorithm update is it something we‘ll be sure has happened or is it just something has, oh well, you know, we’ve done a few searches and the rankings look significantly different than they did last week so we’re going to guess there was an algorithm update.
Kristen: It is more of a guessing game to be honest at the start. There’s been some major updates over the years where Google’s come out and said, yeah, we did change it, yeah, that’s right.
Kevin: Caffeine was a bit like that.
Kristen: Caffeine sort of didn’t really affect rankings too much.
Kevin: It was more they are able to do it all a lot faster but they’re doing the same thing.
Kristen: Yeah, so if you’ve got a good link building campaign going now and your site’s got popularity recently the results of that flow are much faster to your website obviously because the index is basically realtime. Some of the things that have happened throughout the years like the Google Mayday update and whatever have just, you know, people get slapped, they go from position one to nowhere and they don’t know why and blah, blah, blah. So, it’s more of a case where reverse engineering with these kinds of updates and eliminating the factors that it’s not. I’m sure a lot of SEO people are scrambling because I know I’ve had a few meetings recently where people weren’t happy about what’s going on obviously.
Kevin: (Laughs) But hopefully I guess what they’ve seen for the past couple of weeks may have been a temporary glitch and now we’re waiting to see where it settles and how different that was from where it was before.
Kristen: With our case in particular, with the SitePoint Blogs, I think that we’re also looking on too short a timeline as well, so we’ve made a massive change and it’s been about three weeks, I’ve talked to a few friends in the industry recently who did very major changes and they said it took about two months to get back to where they were beforehand, and then from month two onwards they’ve got about a 30, 40% increase in traffic under what it was. So, two to three weeks I don’t think is long enough for us to really know what the problem is with all this other stuff happening at the same time to be honest.
Kevin: Well, thanks for that insight. We don’t get to talk about SEO very much here on the Podcast so it was fun to discuss. Listeners if you have any SEO questions that you’d like to bounce off of Kristen feel free to chime in to the comment thread for this show, I’ll make sure Kristen’s in there checking that out.
Kristen: Or they can also jump on the Facebook page for SitePoint at the moment because I know Sarah is running some question stuff through there as well.
Kevin: Oh, great, excellent. Yes, I did my Q&A on the Facebook page for SitePoint a few weeks ago and that was a lot of fun, so yeah, definitely get in there and have a chat with Kristen. Guys, we’re going to go to our host spotlights here, and I think I’ll lead it off. I am actually going to kind of cop out here and pick a SitePoint blog post as my spotlight just because I completely geeked out when I saw it, I had no idea this post was going up and you know I would be spotlighting it whether it was on SitePoint or not. This is a blog post by Jennifer Farley our design blogger entitled A Pixilated World: Pixel Art Websites. I love pixel art and I suspect I’m not the only geek who loves pixel art. I don’t know what it is but it seems to be a common fetish in our circles, and especially the sort of isometric 3-D looking pixel art.
Kristen: It looks like SimCity.
Kevin: Yeah, my favorite screenshot in this blog post which covers a whole bunch of different websites that feature pixel art as their primary content, my favorite one is a pixel art map of Hong Kong by a guy named Edushi, and if you look at this it’s really amazing. Not only has he rendered the main city of Hong Kong entirely in isometric picture artwork, but he has presented it using a Google Maps sort of interface so you can actually switch between three dimensional map, two dimensional map and satellite map, and you’ve got the little inlaid large scale map that you can drag around the thing; it’s basically Google Maps done as pixel art. And I think if Google were to ask the pixel art people of the world to start rendering all sorts of major cities and they added a secret hidden layer to Google Maps like that they’d have my fandom for life. This is an amazing—
Kristen: It would have taken awhile to do that.
Kevin: yeah, it’s just an amazing project and I could stare at it for hours. Am I the only one here who likes pixel art? … It seems so.
Patrick: No, I’m there with you. I’ve got your back Kevin.
Kevin: Oh, Thank you Patrick. What’s your pick Patrick?
Patrick: So, we’re recording this on October 26, 2010, and 25 years ago to the very day, October 25, 1985, that was the day that Marty McFly hopped into the DeLorean and—
Kevin: Aw, I am so there with you! I’m changing my spotlight.
Patrick: Well, see that’s why I had to get it out before someone like Stephan maybe found that and said I have the best one ever. No, see, so it was 25 years ago to the day that he took his first journey through time to save his friend Doc Brown and so my spotlight is Back to the Future. They just released today the 25th Anniversary DVD and Blu-ray on Blu-ray for the first time, and the website which is bttfmovie.com and the accompanying Facebook page have a lot of cool links and images and photos from some press events that the cast has done getting back together, Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, etcetera. And so I’m feeling real nostalgic right now.
Kevin: I love Back to the Future, that series of movies is my favorite, collectively my favorite film of all time. I love that.
Stephan: Patrick were you even alive when that movie was released? (Laughter)
Patrick: Actually, well that’s the thing, it’s 25, I’m 25, it was a great year (laughter). But no, yeah, I was less than one year old when it was released which was actually in July of ’85, so it’s also 25 years since the film came out, but in October of ’85 I was almost one.
Kevin: I remember 1985 when it came out and loved the movie and seeing the ‘To be continued…’ at the end of that film and then I remember the long wait until number two, like it was not a case of they had the production of all three movies planned from the beginning as you would see today. A trilogy of movies was unusual back then and they kind of just, I think they must have had a different ending in mind but they saw the movie coming together so well they went let’s just chuck a ‘To be continued’; in the end there.
Patrick: Yeah, they actually filmed the second and third movies back to back.
Kevin: Yes, so the second and third came out really quickly but it was a long wait before they came. And I remember loving the first movie so much that every year after I was like will this be the year that we’ll get to see the sequel. Ah, I love those films.
Patrick: And apparently there’s also a new video game in the works from Telltale Games that has Christopher Lloyd providing voice work so that should be pretty cool as well.
Kevin: Yes, I got that email; I am so down for that. Patrick, we have to talk Back to the Future. Brad, what is your obviously less interesting spotlight (laughter).
Brad: Well, when you set me up like that!
Stephan: What a buzzkill, geez.
Patrick: You guys can only hope, hope to get half as good!
Brad: You know what, just because of that I’m taking a two-fer, I got two spotlights.
Kevin: Alright, alright, let’s see it.
Brad: So my first one is a really cool website called Mapcrunch.com and it’s a really simple concept, essentially it just loads random street view images from all over the world. You can filter by continent, you can filter by country or you can just click Go and it will bring up a random shot. You can keep clicking Go to bring up different shots, you can put it in slideshow mode to bring up a new street view shot every few seconds, and I actually landed on after four or five clicks I landed in Antarctica, which I had no idea street view was ever there, but I’m sitting here looking at penguins and a bunch of guys in very heavy jackets walking around taking pictures for street view.
Kristen: They released that a few weeks ago; I remember doing a press article about it. Now they’re on every continent, it was like a land grab, Bing hadn’t done it yet.
Brad: It’s the most basic concept but it’s strangely addicting because you just keep clicking around and you’re hitting all these different countries and just seeing these very random areas, whether it’s a neighborhood or you’re out in the country or you’re on a freeway, it’s a really cool way to kind of look through Google’s Street View.
Kevin: I have landed in some sort of field of yellow flowers. Not sure where I am. Oh, maybe that’s where everyone starts. What’s number two Brad?
Brad: Number two in the spirit of one of my favorite holidays or my favorite holiday which is Halloween, Sears.com launched a kind of funny silly website, or section on their website, so if you go to sears.com/zombies and pull it up there’s an entire section of the website dedicated to selling products to zombies. So they have the laundry machines with the tagline ‘brain stains be gone’ and refrigerators with the tagline ‘keep it cool’ and they show a brain in the refrigerator and accessories with a severed hand, so it’s actually pretty gory and over the top but it’s pretty clever and fun.
Kevin: What is this?
Brad: It’s definitely a good probably a social media exercise they’re trying out I guess.
Kevin: Yeah! Sears is, wow, I would not have thought Sears would be this…
Patrick: I like the tagline, ‘Afterlife. Well spent.’, which is kind of the Sears slogan if you don’t know that, well spent, so afterlife well spent.
Kevin: Yeah. “Find something your zombie will love and drool over for ages.” (laughter) This is great. Someone has a little too much time on their hands I’d say, but congratulations to them for trying it. I would not have thought Sears was hip enough to try this sort of thing. My impression of the Sears brand has been very conservative, so cool to see them doing that.
Patrick: Yeah, some agency banked a lot of billable hours on this one.
Kevin: Oh, yeah. Last but not least, Stephan, what’s your spotlight?
Stephan: I have a worldwide Scrabble crossword game called Scrabb.ly and it’s S-C-R-A-B-B.L-Y, and as long as they don’t tick off the Libyans I guess that site will be around for a while.
Kevin: I’m loading it in Opera 10 as we speak.
Stephan: It’s basically just a giant Scrabble game. They call it a crossword puzzle which kind of makes sense but it’s definitely Scrabble. So you score points, play words, and it’s just worldwide so people are just playing all kinds of words.
Kevin: Holy crap!
Stephan: Yeah, it’s huge.
Kevin: This is more impressive than the Hong Kong pixel art. It’s very similar though, you feel like you’re scrolling around a world map but it’s a giant Scrabble game.
Stephan: Exactly. Yeah, it’s neat.
Kevin: Oh, my girlfriend will be wasting several nights on this, she is a Scrabble nut.
Stephan: I’m sure if someone plays the word ‘sex’ or something over it will get banned— but didn’t we have this discussion, two weeks ago?.
Patrick: You sound like you actually tried.
Stephan: No, no.
Kevin: (Laughs) I like the instructions, step four is get as many points as you can, step five is don’t tell Hasbro (laughter).
Kristen: They’ve been pretty good at suing every Facebook application which tried to mirror one of their games recently so, you know, I’m sure this won’t last long.
Kevin: It will be amazing to see how big it gets before they get shut down.
Kristen: Before they buy them or they shut down, yeah.
Stephan: It’s neat though, it’s a neat concept. And it’s fun.
Kevin: That brings us to the end of another show. Wow, just a massive show, five people; this may be our first five person show guys. Our hosts this week, Patrick, Brad, Stephan, who the heck are ya?
Patrick: I’m Patrick O’Keefe for the iFroggy Network, ifroggy.com, you can find me on Twitter @ifroggy. Also, I will be on the road, again at another conference, on November 6th at PodCamp Topeka in Topeka Kansas, that podcamptopeka.org, and also IndieConf in Raleigh North Carolina on November 13th, so if you’re in those areas, Raleigh or Topeka, definitely let me know and we’ll meet up.
Kevin: What are those conferences? PodCamp, is that about podcasts?
Patrick: PodCamp is a un-conference, there are multiple PodCamps held around the country and I would assume around the world, it was started by Chris Brogan and Christopher Penn as a low-cost, usually free un-conference type event about social media and new media, and PodCamp Topeka is again on November 6th and it’s five dollars, and I am actually going to be keynoting my first keynote there, so looking forward to getting out to Kansas for the first time and meeting some people. And IndieConf is for independent web professionals, so, you know, a lot of people listening, and thanks Kevin.
Kevin: No problem, I look forward to hearing that, I hope that is made available online because I’d love to hear that keynote you deliver. Brad, who are you, where are you?
Kevin: Brad, they can’t hold a WordCamp without you, you’re the hub of WordCamps.
Brad: Actually, I’m co-organizing WordCamp Philly which is this Saturday, though obviously the Podcast will come out the day before, but if you have nothing to do and you’re in the Philly area come on out, we’d love to have you.
Kevin: And last but not least, Stephan?
Kevin: And our special guest this week, Kristen Holden, Kristen tell us about the SEO Business Guide and where people can find it before it goes on sale.
Kristen: Okay, so at the moment it’s online at sitepoint.com/kits/seo1, and I mean they can go there now and add it to their cart really, even though it’s not officially on sale.
Kevin: Oh, it’s not officially but if you order it we’ll ship it now.
Kristen: Yeah, exactly, we’re not going to — if you wanted to bit early that’s fine really.
Kevin: Yeah. And thanks for coming on. You do work across the entire SitePoint group, so SitePoint, 99designs, Flippa.
Kristen: Yeah, and a couple of the new products coming up very soon as well, obviously, which I’m working on with you. So, yeah, we can’t talk about that yet. I’ll be on SitePoint Blogs and writing articles and stuff, so that’s where I can be found causing controversy with my couple blog posts recently.
Kevin: You are a controversial guy Kristen.
The SitePoint Podcast is produced by Carl Longnecker and I’m Kevin Yank. Thanks for listening, bye, bye.
Theme music by Mike Mella.
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