Friday, April 18, 2014

6 Changes We Always Thought Google Would Make to SEO that They Haven't Yet

From Google's interpretation of rel="canonical" to the specificity of anchor text within a link, there are several areas where we thought Google would make a move and are still waiting for it to happen. In today's Whiteboard Friday, Rand details six of those areas. Let us know where you think things are going in the comments!


Number one, a lot of people in the SEO field, and even outside the field, think that it must be the case that if links really matter for SEO, then on-topic links matter more than off-topic links. So, for example, if I'm linking to two websites here about gardening resources, A and B, both about gardening resources, and one of those comes from a botany site and the other one comes from a site about mobile gaming, well, all other things being true, it must be that the one about botany is going to provide a stronger link. That's just got to be the case.
And yet, we cannot seem to prove this. There doesn't seem to be data behind it or to support it. Anyone who's analyzed this problem in-depth, which a number of SEOs have over the years -- a lot of people, who are very advanced, have gone through the process of classifying links and all this kind of stuff -- seem to come to the same conclusion, which is Google seems to really think about links in a more subject/context agnostic perspective.
Number two, I'm actually in this camp. I still think that someday it's coming, that anchor text influence will eventually decline. Yet it seems to be that, yes, while other signals have certainly risen in importance, and there have been lots of other things, it seems that anchor text inside a link is still far more important and better than generic anchor text.
Getting specific, targeting something like "gardening supplies" when I link to A, as opposed to on the same page saying something like, "Oh, this is also a good resource for gardening supplies," but all I linked with was the text "a good resource" over to B, that A is going to get a lot more ranking power. Again, all other things being equal, A will rank much higher than B, because this anchor text is still pretty influential. It has a fairly substantive effect.
I think this is one of those cases where a lot of SEOs said, "Hey, anchor text is where a lot of manipulation and abuse is happening. It's where a lot of Web spam happens. Clearly Google's going to take some action against this."
Number three, 302s. So 302s have been one of these sort of long-standing kind of messes of the Web, where a 302 was originally intended as a temporary redirect, but many, many websites and types of servers default to 302s for all kinds of pages that are moving.
So A301 redirects to B, versus C302 redirecting to D. Is it really the case that the people who run C plan to change where the redirect points in the future, and is it really the case that they do so more than A does with B?
Well, a lot of the time, probably not. But it still is the case, and you can see plenty of examples of this happening out in the search results and out on the Web, that Google interprets this 301 as being a permanent redirect. All the link juice from A is going to pass right over to B.
With C and D, it appears, with big brands, when the redirect's been in place for a long time and they have some trust in it, maybe they see some other signals, some other links pointing over here, that yes, some of this does pass over, but it is not nearly what's happening with a 301. This is like a directive, and this is sort of a nudge or a hint. It just seems to be important to still get those 301s, those right kinds of redirects right.
Number four Speaking of nudges and hints versus directives, rel="canonical" has been an interesting one. So when rel="canonical" first launched, what Google said about rel="canonical" is rel="canonical" is a hint to us, but we won't necessarily take it as gospel.
Yet, every test we saw, even from those early launch days, was, man, they are taking it as gospel. You throw a rel="canonical" on a trusted site accidentally on every page and point it back to the homepage, Google suddenly doesn't index anything but the homepage. It's crazy.
Number five, I think, for a long time, a lot of us have thought, hey, the social web is rising. Social is where a lot of the great content is being shared, a lot of where people are pointing to important things, and where endorsements are happening, more so, potentially, than the link graph. It's sort of the common man's link graph has become the social web and the social graph.
And yet, with the exception of the two years where Google had a very direct partnership with Twitter and those tweets and indexation, all that kind of stuff was heavily influential for Google search results, since that partnership broke up, we haven't seen that again from Google. They've actually sort of backtracked on social, and they've kind of said, "Hey, you know, tweets, Facebook shares, likes, that kind of stuff, it doesn't directly impact rankings for everyone."
Number six, last one. I think a lot of us felt like, as Google was cleaning up web spam, for a long time they talked about cleaning up web spam, from '06, '07 to about 2011, 2012, it was pretty sketchy. It was tough.
When they did start cleaning up web spam, I think a lot of us thought, "Well, eventually they're going to get to PPC too." I don't mean pay-per-click. I mean porn, pills, and casino.
But it turns out, as Matt Brown, from Moz, wisely and recently pointed out in his Search Love presentation in Boston, that, yes, if you look at the search results around these categories, whatever it is -- Buy Cialis online, Texas hold-'em no limit poker, removed for content, because Whiteboard Friday is family-friendly, folks -- whatever the search is that you're performing in these spheres, this is actually kind of the early warning SERPS of the SEO world.
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