I just went to the Organic Listings Forum, where we asked questions and discussed techniques related to "organic" search engine listings. The session opened with an audience member asking the heated question: Is Google ranking up their search using paid listings?
This kicked the session into a heated debate, with a panel of experts providing answers:
Mike Grehan, author of Search Engine Marketing: The Essential Best Practice Guideike, said there is no relationship between paid and organic listings in Google, but that Google has built "a Chinese wall" between its sales and technology departments.
Meanwhile, Brett Tabke, editor, http://www.WebmasterWorld.com, said rankings come and go as algorithms change. "Don't put all your eggs in one basket," he warns.
Later, though, a fellow who works for a national corporation asked another question. His corporation has a corporate site and two main brand sites. For two years, they have been number one on Google but were recently dropped. They've done an extensive Adwords campaign, and their sales rep called Google.
Here's the interesting part. The Google tech representative said the company's brand sites were dropped because they were cross-linked to corporate sites, he thinks due to duplicate content -- to me, that's not satisfying.
In essence, Google didn't make the decisions based on the fact that they were clients. These cross-links between the brand and corp sites were bringing down the page rank of the brand sites. I'll be looking into this and trying to get more info as the session continues.
Meanwhile, the issue that's important here is that there is relationship between the sales and tech departments at Google.
Natural language. Moving on to what Brett believes to be new algorithm rankings - "natural language." Natural language allows us to analyze symantics, look at adjectives in page content and see if it's spam or not. It has been compared to Microsoft's new spam analyzer, and it's constantly improving. Brett believes Google is now using this new technology.
Another great question that was asked is: Are .govs and .edus ranked higher on Google?
Craig Silverstein, one of the original Google developers, says Google leans towards .edu and .gov sites, because it was developed by college students, and is therefore designed to surf college sites. That's something that is important to keep in mind regarding Google.
Stemming. Both Brett and Mike are big advocates of stemming. Mike says it's a good idea to use stemming, where you use multiple syntax relatd to the same keywords. For example, if your keyword is run, then runs, running, and runner should all be used in the same web copy. The idea comes from library search engine technology, and the same tech is involved in Google. Use it when you can, when it's relevant, and when it makes sense. Brett advises to use stemming in different sentences.
What's next for Google? The experts all have their theories, but one point i want to make here is that the following are just multiple theories; there is no confirmed consensus.
Mike believes that Google hasn't used page rank at all for a long time -- instead, he believes they're moving towards a keyword-dependent hit-based algorithm. This would take longer because it records what sites are getting hits, but according to Mike, it would be a more relevant algorithm.
Another great point. One audience member asked another great question: What do we do now? What direction do we go in?
Mike says to optimize your site, get back to the basics, and do what's best for your visitors. "If search engines didn't exist, would you go through all the trouble to optimize? That's how you should optimize your site. How do you make it most useful to your visitors?" Don't obsess over page rank, he says. Don't look at your toolbar -- it often doesn't effect user decisions.
My take on that? While there is some element of truth to what he says, I wouldn't recommend completely ignoring your toolbar. Sometimes, users do look at your toolbar before they buy from you.
Meanwhile, Brett warns not to allow Google to cache old information from your site -- ever. Competitors use that info, and also Google brands your site, your info, and your pages with their logo.
Three New Players According to Mike, three new players you need to concentrate on right now are Yahoo!, Inktomi, and MSN.
I, personally, get the sense that you shouldn't let too much ride on Google right now.
Who to link to? For a general linking policy, Brett warns that you should always, always be careful -- don't link to bad neighbors, check backlinks on the Google toolbar. Who is linking to them? Who are they linking to? He asks, "What is their neighborhood like?"
Anthony Muller, Director of Natural Search Operations, Range Online Media says it's wise to get into trusted feeds with Inktomi, as this directly feeds into the search engine, "so you're not going to have any Google nightmares"
Would google ever have trusted feeds? For the time being, no, Mike says, although if Google goes public, then we will see trusted feeds because share holders would expect them.
Speaking of which, Detlev Johnson, President of Technology, SuccessWorks Search Marketing Solutions Inc. says that this spring he believes Google will go public...
To sum it all up, it was a great session! The conference been a lot of fun so far, and there's been a lot of great comments and questions.
I'll talk to you soon...