Recently Google updated their index and relevancy algorithm with Update Allegra.
The update was believed to be related to latent semantic indexing.
Beings that my own rankings just dipped, it would be easy for me to take things overly personal and perhaps be a bit biased about the situation. Then again some of my other sites are now ranking way better than they were, and I also pointed out this problem before it ever had any significant effect on me.
In doing this update the search results are in many areas less than stellar. Understandable that shuffles will occur as they must to consistantly improve relevancy, but on more than one occasion Google has seemed to have lost focus on their official mission statement.
They tell you to design content for the user. Link to quality resources. Act if search engines are not even there. Generally this is good advice for many webmasters.
What they do not tell you is that they do not follow their own guidance.
Sure trying to rank for a term like "SEO" or other generic terms may be a bit unrealistic for many and only a few sites can rank well for such a term. I am not particularly saying that I believe I deserve to rank #1 in Google for "SEO" because it is a generic term and they owe me nothing.
On another front there are brand names that people work long and hard to build. Sure the search results are just informational pages about a topic, and maybe Google doesn't give a shit about my brand, and that is fine too.
Where the real problem exists though is that since I have worked so hard to build that brand it gets a ton of traffic and people expect to see my site there.
When people search for stuff like "seobook" and 10 out of 10 of the front page results reference me but I am not listed that provides a poor user experience for Google's users.
To try to prevent their results from being manipulated they have often thrown the baby out with the bathwater. But maybe in the hopes of achieving their longterm goals Google realizes they have to take short term hits.
What if Google is wrong in their desires though? What if their desire to fight off commercial manipulation is so great that they fail to accept commerce as part of the web, and too often show informational results when people want to shop? Would that eventually cause people to stop using Google? Would accepting markets for more of what they are without trying to bias them away from marketing and toward aged sites or information dense pages potentially create a more efficient market?
Many people have been noticing a wide shuffle in search relevancy scores recently. Some of those well in the know attribute this to latent semantic indexing. Even if they are not using LSI, Google has likely been using other word relationship technologies for a while, but recently increased its weighting. How Does Latent Semantic Indexing Work?
Latent semantic indexing allows a search engine to determine what a page is about outside of specifically matching search query text.
A page about Apple computers will likely naturally have terms such as iMac or iPod on it.
Latent semantic indexing adds an important step to the document indexing process. In addition to recording which keywords a document contains, the method examines the document collection as a whole, to see which other documents contain some of those same words. LSI considers documents that have many words in common to be semantically close, and ones with few words in common to be semantically distant. This simple method correlates surprisingly well with how a human being, looking at content, might classify a document collection. Although the LSI algorithm doesn't understand anything about what the words mean, the patterns it notices can make it seem astonishingly intelligent. source
By placing additional weight on related words in content, or words in similar positions in other related documents, LSI has a net effect of lowering the value of pages which only match the specific term and do not back it up with related terms.
LSI vs Semantically Related Words:
After being roasted by a few IR students and scientists I realized that many SEOs (like me) blended the concepts of semantically related words with latent semantic indexing, and due to constraints of the web it is highly unlikely that large scale search engines are using LSI on their main search indexes.
Nonetheless, it is overtly obvious to anyone who studies search relevancy algorithms by watching the results and ranking pages that the following are true for Google:
search engines such as Google do try to figure out phrase relationships when processing queries, improving the rankings of pages with related phrases even if those pages are not focused on the target term
pages that are too focused on one phrase tend to rank worse than one would expect (sometimes even being filtered out for what some SEOs call being over-optimized)
pages that are focused on a wider net of related keywords tend to have more stable rankings for the core keyword and rank for a wider net of keywords
Given the above, here are tips to help increase your page relevancy scores and make your rankings far more stable...
Mix Your Anchor Text!
Latent semantic indexing (or similar technologies) can also be used to look at the link profile of your website. If all your links are heavy in a few particular phrases and light on other similar phrases then your site may not rank as well.
Example Related Terms:
Many of my links to this site say "SEO Book" but I also used various other anchor text combinations to make the linkage data appear less manipulative.
Instead of using SEO in all the links some of them may use phrases like
search engine optimization
search engine marketing
search engine placement
search engine positioning
search engine promotion
search engine ranking
Instead of using book in all the links some other good common words might be
How do I Know What Words are Related?
There are a variety of options to know what words are related to one another.
Search Google for search results with related terms using a ~. For example, Google Search: ~seo will return pages with terms matching or related to seo and will highlight some of the related words in the search results.
Look at variations of keywords suggested by various keyword suggestion tools.
write a page and use the Google AdSense sandbox to see what type of ads they would try to deliver to that page.
Read the page copy and analyze the backlinks of high ranking pages.
Google Sandbox and Semantic Relationships:
The concept of "Google Sandbox" has become synonymous with "the damn thing won't rank" or whatever. The Sandbox idea is based upon sites with inadequate perceived trust taking longer to rank well.
Understanding the semantic relationships of words is just another piece of the relevancy algorithms, though many sites will significantly shift in rankings due to it. The Google sandbox theory typically has more to do with people getting the wrong kinds of links or not getting enough links than it does with semantic relationships. Some sites and pages are hurt though by being too focused on a particular keyword or phrase.
Where do I learn more about Latent Semantic Indexing?
A while ago I read Patterns in Unstructured Data and found it was wrote in a rather plain english easy to understand manner.
Brian Turner also listed a good number of research papers in this thread.
I'm not about to go post my research and examples on a public forum. But, I'll warn you now - if you're not varying your anchor text, and you're not writing pages synonymous with your term that don't contain the term you're targetting, you're going to be in a world of hurt within the next 90 days.
We've been tracking this update for the last 6 months. I was surprised to see it happen now - I honestly didn't expect it until next month or March, but it's here.
I have a page about "baby clothes". I link to my site 100 times with the anchor text "baby clothes"
I now pull out the words "baby clothes" and all the links pointing to my site with the words "baby clothes"
Do I still have footing to rank for that term "baby clothes" after you've run some sort of semantic analysis on it?
That's my simplistic explanation. I think they're doing something very similar, but taking links into account like that and maybe even devaluing some links on the "main" term...
Well, if it hasn't changed by Monday I'm going out to buy a black hat.
If irrelevant junk is what Google wants then irrelevant junk is what it's gonna get. :-(
Man I'm glad I diversified my sites. I think I will work on diverifying some more...
Google Inc. is all about money. And IMHO ... so are Yahoo Inc. and Microsft Corp.. As webmasters we are the people who build sites and depend on these money hungry companies, who at the heels of the hunt, put their interests miles ahead of ours.
My main concern with this new update is that if you search for my brand name (and there are quite a few that do based on referrals), then right now my site does not even rank. Our brand name is perhaps the best in my industry, and Google are, in my opinion, diluting my brand name and causing my company money. The first result for my brand name is a spammy page which is a "scraper site" which is actually SERP's page from somewhere - so that's basically useless.
The Hidden or Not so Hidden Messages:
If you are entirely dependant on any single network and a single site for the bulk of your income then you are taking a big risk. Most webmasters would be best off to have at least a couple of income streams to shield themselves from algorithm changes.
If you are new to SEO you are best off optimizing your site for MSN and Yahoo! off the start and then hoping to later rank well in Google.
Make sure you mix your anchor text to minimize your risk profile. Even if you are generally just using your site name as your anchor text eventually that too can hurt you.
Search algorithms and SEO will continue to get more complicated. But that makes for many fun posts ;)
Update: a few additional tools recommended in our comments and the comments at ThreadWatch
So I was looking for a site of a well known SEO in Google and he does not show up for his site name.
I remembered a few others that this happened to recently and spoke to a friend who has seen a bunch of this. It appears that this is a rather common occurance now, where sites that are aggressively improving their rankings stop showing up for their keyword and sometimes their site name.
I looked at some of the keywords for this site and some of the deep pages are ranking poorly for his primary terms in Google, but they are outranking the home page (which heavily targets those same terms and is absolutely burried). None of his pages rank for his site name.
I suppose this is a good way for Google to attack people selling competing advertising systems that manipulate their index. Rank them lowly for their keywords AND remove them from the index for their site name.
If people do not show up for their own name it hurts their brand. On the web AND off the web their entire brand is diminished by not showing up for their own name.
Then the only way these people can show up for their own name and brand is by buying in on AdWords, and if you have a strong brand that can become a competitive landscape and those costs can add up quick.
Pretty damn cool self regulating system if you are Google, but kinda sucky for joe average SEO company. :(
Google's free AdWords API service lets developers engineer computer programs that interact directly with the AdWords server. With the applications created, advertisers and third parties can more efficiently - and creatively - manage their large AdWords accounts and campaigns.
Flexible and Functional
What can you do with the AdWords API? This all depends on your programming genius and clients' advertising needs. Some possibilities might include:
Generating automatic keyword, ad text, URL, and custom reports
Integrating AdWords data with databases, such as inventory systems
Developing additional tools and applications to help you manage accounts
It works in many language and its quota limits will be based on the size and spend of your account. You need a My Client Center account to sign up. Here is some of their support questions.
Google Tracking Cross Platforms:
Google offers up a free cross platform tracking system. You can track banner impressions, email campaigns, and other pay per click search accounts all from inside the Google AdWords system. Why do that?
by being first to market with a free tool they lock in mind share and build a user base
they get the valuable market data of knowing how their system competes with other ad systems...thus allowing them to further learn from other systems and make systems such as smart pricing as smart as they can be.
it further positions their product line as the default starting point for online marketing.
saves their advertisers money so they have more money to spend.
also build good karma points with many new marketers
Google understands that they more information they have the more they are worth, and that it does not hurt them to be branded as the one stop shop for targeted advertisements. You got to hand it to Google for making freely available something which others charge for. I have not yet tried it, but soon may :) link with more information requires login