Thursday, May 31, 2007

Plumbing the web

Today is Google Developer Day! We're hosting events for developers in ten cities around the world, as you can read about from Matt Cutts and on our Google Blog. Jonathan Simon and Maile Ohye, whom you have seen on this blog, at conferences, and in our discussion forum, are currently hanging out at the event in San Jose.

I've been at the Beijing event, where I gave a keynote about "Plumbing the Web -- APIs and Infrastructures" for 600 Chinese web developers. I talked about a couple of my favorite topics, Sitemaps and Webmaster Tools, and some of the motivations behind them. Then I talked a bit about consumer APIs and some of our backend infrastructures to support our platform.

Check out the video of my keynote on YouTube or see some of the other videos from the events around the globe.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Why we attend conferences

I've always loved traveling. Okay, not the flights so much, especially given that I typically travel coach (yes, even for work trips). But getting to learn interesting cultural tidbits, enjoy regional cuisines, and meet new people... it all definitely makes my life richer. Even the little things -- linguistic differences ("How are you going?" in Sydney) and just walking around (pass on the left in the UK!) -- can be fascinating.

So I shouldn't be surprised when my friends tease me about my traveling as a representative of Google's Search Quality team: "Must be really rough!" However, being an active part of conferences actually isn't all glamour and relaxation.

Here's a glimpse of the reality:

  • Sometimes (though thankfully rarely) I get metaphorically used as a human punching bag.
  • There's no pause button on my corp and personal e-mail accounts. Days at conferences = LOTS of email to catch up on!
  • And on a related note, what's with the no-wifi nonsense?! I have Verizon broadband [sic] for my laptop now, but still... ack!
  • Attending conferences requires an enormous amount of extra time overall. I stubbornly seem to create presentations fresh for each conference, I collaborate with other Googler speakers on their presentations (and vice versa), and I end up with a ton of additional (valuable but time-intense) work from info I glean at the conferences. Based on this and the e-mail reason noted above, I've noticed that each day of conference = five days of combined prep + analysis + implementation.

But here's why I still really like going to conferences:

  • I learn a bunch from other speakers. When folks from other search engines or various experts speak, I often think -- hey, that's useful information, or that's a particularly thoughtful way of explaining stuff. I'm still pretty new to the conference-speaking circuit, so every bit I soak up helps!
  • SEO and webmaster folks are typically rather fun people. :-)
  • Though I don't always make time for this, it's certainly neat getting to spend some time exploring various cities. Okay, so San Jose doesn't count (it's right next to Google), but I can't wait to check out Toronto (and, likely via a few personal days beforehand, Montreal).
  • I learn a great deal from webmasters I chat with. I'm able to go back to my colleagues here and say - hey, this is how our algorithm changes or our guidelines are being perceived, these are challenges we didn't anticipate from our tools, and so on. And it's not just about search; I've gotten thoughtful earfuls about Gmail, Calendar, and practically everything else about Google, and I do my best to relay this feedback to my colleagues in other departments.
  • Lastly, seeing someone in person provides a very helpful new perspective on what they're meaning to communicate online. It's easy to misread text on a page, especially when there's no immediate opportunity to follow up with questions. But in person, issues get cleared up on both sides, and that's good for everyone.

Thankfully, it's not just me who's presenting to and chatting with webmasters from Google -- I'd be exhausted, and you'd get quite bored of me. As you can see from the list below, our conference-going is genuinely a team effort: Through this month and June, you'll find Google Search Quality and Webmaster Central folks present at these conferences:

Search Engine Strategies - Xiamen, China - May 25, 26-30
  • Jianfei Zhu (Senior Software Engineer): Get a Lesson from Spamming

Search Engine Strategies - Milan, Italy - May 29-30
  • Brian White (Technical Program Manager)
  • Luisella Mazza (Search Quality Analyst)
  • Stefano Bezze (Search Quality Associate)

American Marketing Association Hot Topics Series - New York, NY - May 25
  • Maile Ohye (Senior Developer Support Engineer): Search Engine Marketing

Google Developer Day - San Jose, CA (was originally set for Mountain View) - May 31
  • Jonathan Simon (Webmaster Trends Analyst)
  • Maile Ohye (Senior Developer Support Engineer)

Search Marketing Expo Advanced - Seattle, WA - June 4-5
  • Matt Cutts (Software Engineer): You&A, Personalized Search and Penalty Box
  • Vanessa Fox (Product Manager, Webmaster Central): Duplicate Content

Search Engine Strategies - Toronto, Canada - June 12-13
  • Adam Lasnik: Search Engine Friendly Design and The Worst SEO Myths, Don'ts, and Scams

Searchnomics - Santa Clara, CA - June 27
  • Shashi Thakur (Software Engineer): Search Engine Friendly Design
  • Greg Grothaus (Software Engineer): Search & Dynamic Web Sites and SEO for Web 2.0

* * *

We look forward to seeing many of you in person! But even if you can't or don't want to go to one of the conferences we attend, we welcome your questions, comments, or even just a friendly introduction in our Webmaster Help Group.

Take care, and enjoy your summer, wherever your online or offline travels may take you!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Taking advantage of universal search

Yesterday, at Searchology, we unveiled exciting changes in our search results. With universal search, we've begun blending results from more than just the web in order to provide the most relevant and useful results possible. In addition to web pages, for instance, the search results may include video, news, images, maps, and books. Over time, we'll continue to enhance this blending so that searchers can get the exact information they need right from the search results.

This is great news for the searcher, but what does it mean for you, the webmaster? It's great news for you as well. Many people do their searches from web search and aren't aware of our many other tools to search for images, news, videos, maps, and books. Since more of those results may now be returned in web search, if you have content that is returned in these others searches, more potential visitors may see your results.

Want to make sure you're taking full advantage of universal search? Here are some tips:

Google News results
If your site includes news content, you can, submit your site for inclusion in Google News. Once your site is included, you can let us know about your latest articles by submitting a News Sitemap. (Note News Sitemaps are currently available for English sites only.)

News Archive results
If you have historical news content (available for free or by subscription), you can submit it for inclusion in News Archive Search.

Image results
If your site includes images, you can opt-in to enhanced Image search in webmaster tools, which will enable us to gather additional metadata about your images using our Image Labeler. This helps us return your images for the most relevant queries. Also ensure that you are fully taking advantage of the images on your site.

Local results
If your site is for a business in a particular geographic location, you can provide information to us using our Local Business Center. By providing this information, you can help us provide the best, locally relevant results to searchers both in web search and on Google Maps.

Video results
If you have video content, you can host it on Google Video, YouTube, or a number of other video hosting providers. If the video is a relevant result for the query, searchers can play the video directly from the search results page (for Google Video and YouTube) or can view a thumbnail of the video then click over to the player for other hosting providers. You can easily upload videos to Google Video or to YouTube.

Our goal with universal search is to provide most relevant and useful results, so for those of you who want to connect to visitors via search, our best advice remains the same: create valuable, unique content that is exactly what searchers are looking for.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Musings on Down Under

Earlier this year, a bunch of Googlers (Maile, Peeyush, Dan, Adam and I) bunged ourselves across the equator and headed to Sydney, so we could show our users and webmasters that just because you're "down under" doesn't mean you're under our radar. We had a great time getting to know folks at our Sydney office, and an even greater time meeting and chatting with all the people attending Search Summit and Search Engine Room. What makes those 12-hour flights worthwhile is getting the chance to inform and be informed about the issues important to the webmaster community.

One of the questions we heard quite frequently: Should we as webmasters/SEOs/SEMs/users be worried about personalized search?

Our answer: a resounding NO! Personalized search takes each user's search behavior, and subtly tunes the search results to better match their interests over time. For a user, this means that even if you're a lone entomologist in a sea of sports fans, you'll always get the results most relevant to you for the query "cricket". For the webmaster, it allows niche markets that collide on the same search terms to disambiguate themselves based on individual user preferences, and this really presents a tremendous opportunity for visibility. Also, to put things in perspective, search engines have been moving towards some degree of personalization for years; for example, providing country/language specific results is already a form of personalization, just at a coarser granularity. Making it more fine-grained is the logical next step, and helps level the playing field for smaller niche websites which now have a chance to rank well for users that want their content the most.

Another question that popped up a lot: I'm moving my site from domain X to Y. How do I make sure all my hard-earned reputation carries over?

Here are the important bits to think about:
  • For each page on domain X, have it 301-redirect to the corresponding page on Y. (How? Typically through .htaccess, but check with your hosting provider).
  • You might want to stagger the move, and redirect sub-sections of your site over time. This gives you the chance to keep an eye on the effects, and also gives search engines' crawl/indexing pipelines time to cover the space of redirected URLs.
  • is your friend. Keep an eye on it during the transition to make sure that the redirects are having the effect you want.
  • Give it time. How quickly the transition is reflected in the results depends on how quickly we recrawl your site and see those redirects, which depends on a lot of factors including the current reputation of your site's pages.
  • Don't forget to update your Sitemap. (You are using Sitemaps, aren't you?)
  • If possible, don't substantially change the content of your pages at the same time you make the move. Otherwise, it will be difficult to tell if ranking changes are due to the change of content or incorrectly implemented redirects.
Before we sign off, we wanted to shout-out to a couple of the folks at the Sydney office: Lars (one of the original Google Maps guys) gets accolades from all of us jetlagged migrants for donating his awesome Italian espresso machine to the office. And Deepak, thanks for all your tips on what to see and do around Sydney.

Analytics - Another tool for webmasters

Webmaster tools from Google are indispensable for people who optimize their site for indexing in Google. Eighteen months ago, Google launched another free tool for webmasters - Google Analytics - which tells you about your visitors and the traffic patterns to your site using a JavaScript code snippet to execute tracking and reporting. This past Tuesday, Google Analytics launched a new version, with an easier-to-use interface that has more intuitive navigation and greater visibility for important metrics. We also introduced some collaboration and customization features such as email reports and custom dashboards.

But we wanted to highlight some of the webmaster-specific metrics within Google Analytics for our regular readers, since it offers a lot of easily-accessible information that will enrich the work you're doing.

For instance, do you know how many visitors to your site are using IE versus Firefox? And even further, how many of those IE or Firefox users are converting on a goal you have set up? Google Analytics can tell you information like this so you can prepare and tailor your website for your audience. Then, when you are designing, you can prioritize your testing to make sure that the site works on the most popular browsers and operating systems first.

Are your visitors using Java-enabled browsers? What version of Flash are the majority of your visitors using? What connection speed do they have? If you find that lots of visitors are using a dial-up service, you're going to want to put in some more effort to streamline the load time of images on your site, for example.

Plus, Google Analytics will make your company's marketing division very happy. It reports on the most effective search keywords, the most popular referring sources and the geographic location of visitors, as well as the performance of banner ads, PPC keyword campaigns, and email newsletters. If you haven't tried Google Analytics, watch the Flash tour of the product or set up a free account now and see statistics on your visitors and the traffic to your site within three hours.

Posted by Jeff Gillis, Google Analytics Team

Thursday, May 10, 2007

About those fake penalty notification emails

(This post was translated from our German webmaster blog, originally written by Stefanie.)

We are aware that a number of German webmasters have received fake penalty notification emails that allegedly came from Google Search Quality. These spam emails have created some confusion about their authenticity, since we send very similar email notifications, which you can read more about here. Therefore, we clearly want to state that these emails are not related to any of Google's efforts concerning webmaster notification.

Updated: Because these emails are easy to mistake for authentic ones from Google, we've temporarily discontinued sending them as we work on ways to provide more secure communication mechanisms. We hope this will reduce confusion.

In the original post, we had listed the ways to tell if the email you received was not from Google. However, as we've temporarily stopped sending emails about guidelines violations, you can safely assume that any email you receive isn't from us. Note that the emails we sent did not include attachments. In addition, some of the emails mentioned 301 redirects as being the violation in question. Rest assured that 301 redirects are not a violation of our Webmaster Guidelines. Note that we do provide information about some violations in webmaster tools. If your site previously violated the guidelines and you've made changes to fix it, you can let us know by filing a reinclusion request.

This post has been updated to indicate that we've temporarily stopped sending emails to webmasters about guidelines violations to reduce confusion.