Google Panda Update 1 and 2 Shaking Out

Google pushed out a set of updates to its search ranking algorithm in the first couple months of the year. These changes affected websites and webmasters in waves, with the first update hitting one set of the so-called content mills, and the second wave hitting those who got missed the first time around. After much consternation, things are settling down with some websites and networks scrabbling to control damage, and with everyone else trying to figure out the new SERP rules.

panda-update-googleGoogle mentioned that only a small percentage of rankings were affected with each update. That’s small comfort to those website owners that go hammered. On the other hand, many web developers found themselves only minimally affected. The key questions moving forward, is what to do to help your websites rank higher and what to not do to keep from hurting your website’s search rankings.

Google Search Results Quality

Everyone always says that content is king and that quality is the way to a top Google search ranking, but everyone knows that isn’t really true. The "if you build it, they will link" theory of search engine rankings is based upon the naïve assumption that everyone who publishes webpages and online content link based solely on how much they value the pages and information that they are linking to. That may have been true a decade ago, but it hasn’t been true in years.

These days, website owners routinely link based upon self-interest. Content mills, for example, add the nofollow tag to any link pointing offsite. One example,, has links to "references" at the bottom of every article it publishes. It is these references that, supposedly, validate the information provided and prove that the data within is quality information. However, every one of those links is nofollowed. If the content being linked is useful enough to be the validating reference, how can it possibly be unworthy of a full follow link?

The answer, of course, is that no one in the world uses the nofollow tag the way it is intended. Rather, websites and SEO experts use the no follow tag to enhance the links that they want to power up for their own benefit and to downgrade all other links regardless of value.

The other reason that Google search results are broken is that they over-emphasize the title tag, ranking websites of lower quality higher than better quality websites because the lower quality site matches the wording entered into the query box slightly better than the better quality article.

Content Mills Punished

It seems that neither Google, nor any of the search experts out there, seem to think that Google has changed its link counting ways or its text pattern matching algorithm. Instead, the focus is on the concept that there is a "penalty" for low-quality content that extends to the entire website.

The idea is that if there are 200 low-quality pages (that is, low-ranking pages) and 100 higher-quality (higher-ranking) pages, then the 100 good pages are dragged down by a penalty from the low pages. That is why content mills (and other websites) are now frantically pulling their "junk" content down in hopes that their rankings will improve for their better quality content. Demand Studios, publisher of eHow, for example, is decommissioning all of their unmoderated user-generated content in hopes that their better, editor approved, content will regain some of its luster in Google’s eyes.

Of course, this may all be moot as recent actions by various flower selling websites demonstrated recently. It seems that all of the major online florists were buying links in the run up to Mother’s Day to ensure that they would rank high (or not lose their high rankings) for the big flower buying holiday.

Google’s response was essentially that it is fine to break the Google Webmaster Guidelines as long as it doesn’t affect the final rankings. The stupidity of this concept is staggering considering there is no way for Google, or anyone else, to know whether or not the forbidden link buying campaigns affect EVERY search made. The link buying may not have affected the rankings for "Mother’s Day flowers" but could have made a big difference for "mothers day flower specials cleveland".

If you want to make money writing online, you can naively write quality content and hope for the best, or you can write quality content and then get out there an build some links. You’ll never outspend 1-800 flowers on a link-buying campaign for Valentine’s Day, but your top-notch article on how to pick good roses at the flower store might just make it into the Top 10 Google search results if you build out some links, and then hope for the best.

Best SEO Optimized WordPress Themes for Writers

best-seo-optimized-wordpress-themes-for-writers-graphic The guys over at WordPress Hacks recently updated their ever popular best free WordPress themes article for 2010 and that got me thinking again about all of the themes I’ve looked through. In the ongoing quest to find the best WordPress themes for writers I’ve looked at TONS of WordPress themes, and I do mean TONS. I’ve looked at free WordPress themes, I’ve looked at premium WordPress themes, I’ve looked at theme frameworks, I’ve looked at WordPress Photoshop template files, I’ve looked at empty themes, basic themes, and yes, even themes that claim to be great WordPress themes for writers. The good news is that means that I have a lot of experience with what is out there for good WordPress themes to use for professional writers. The bad news is that the reason I have looked through so many different WordPress themes is because I still haven’t found the perfect theme, yet.

I could do like everyone else does and just compile a bunch of links to good WordPress themes. I could even give it a really great SEO optimized title like 25 Best WordPress Themes for Writers. But, in an effort to perhaps speed along the development of quality WordPress themes for writers to use, I decided to compile a list of the best features a WordPress theme can have to make it useful for writers, and frankly, everyone else too.

Search Engine Optimized – SEO Ready WordPress Themes Required

Let’s get real here for a minute. Professional writers are professional writers because they get paid for what they do. Writing professionally isn’t easy, and quality writing and quality website content are valuable commodities. Running a freelance writing business website is a lot more profitable if people actually see it. As Han Solo once said, "I ain’t in this for your revolution, Highness. I expect to be well paid."

While there are numerous reasons a pro writer might create and publish a website, every one of those reasons succeeds or fails on a single criteria, getting enough traffic driven to the website in order to see all those webpages filled with high-quality professional writing. Leaving aside the debate about whether or not content is king when it comes to search engine rankings, one thing is clear, unless you have the means to manually drive readers to your website, you’ll need to grab search engine traffic to establish a readership. And, the way to a searcher’s heart, is through the first page of Google search results.

Check out the latest on credit card rewards programs at Finance Gourmet…

A few years ago, an Internet expert and SEO guru named Court published a list of top SEO problems in WordPress themes. He was right on the money, and it was a hit. At first, only the best WordPress themes were properly search engine optimized.  It took a while, but soon the entire WordPress developer community was cranking out SEO-optimized WordPress themes. Today, only the lowest quality WordPress themes make the basic SEO errors that Court outlined in his post.

The problem is that developers have stopped there. The last was called the most basic SEO errors committed in WordPress themes for a reason; they were the BASIC SEO ERRORS. They were not the ONLY SEO errors made in WordPress themes. So, while most quality themes now exploit Google’s overdependence on being told what is "important" on a webpage via header tags — that’s the H1, H2, H3 tags in your theme’s code — by making a post’s title the H1 element instead of the blog’s name. However, many themes still do not handle H2, H3, and H4 properly. Just making everything else H2 is NOT good SEO practice.

Some of the SEO issue in WordPress has been solved by the platform’s extensibility in the form of plug-ins. The most common SEO plugins for WordPress are All-In-One SEO plugin (outstanding SEO in it’s name, BTW), and Headspace2 (not so good on the SEO, but more "brandable"). These plug-ins allow webmasters and authors to easily set certain SEO parameters automatically, or make it easier to set them manually. These SEO WordPress plugins will ensure that your title tag is the same as you post title unless you set it otherwise, for example.

So, what else does a high-quality WordPress theme for writers need?

That’s coming up next…

Wedding DJ Costs or How Much Power Does It Take To Rank High In Google Search Results?

wedding-dj-dance-playlist-graphic At the request of a friend I recently wrote up an article about the wedding DJ business. More specifically, I wrote a Hub about wedding DJ prices. The idea was that since so many people want to know what a wedding DJ costs, but so few DJ companies actually will say on their websites what they charge to DJ a wedding reception or other event, that he could refer them over to the webpage with the data.

The wedding reception DJ rate piece did pretty well while it sat on top of some of the topics pages on HubPages itself and generated a little bit of traffic organically. However, the article doesn’t really show up anywhere in main Google search results pages. The SERPs are, of course, loaded with long-established webpages that ironically, do not answer the question most people are asking when they search for wedding DJ prices or wedding DJ rates or something similar.

Instead these searches return webpages with information about wedding DJs who will do a wedding reception for you, but not pages that actually have any price or rates on them. In fact, most of the top search results flatly state something like, contact us for rates, or fill out this form for a rate quote.

This is one of the area where Google and all Internet search engines fail miserably. They are unable to detect the difference between a webpage that actually lists rates or prices and one that points you somewhere else for that same information. This is obviously a very tough programming challenge both from the perspective of being able to discern when someone wants actual pricing information, and from the perspective of knowing which content delivers an actual rate or price. Then, there is the even more difficult task of determining which pages best serve the searcher. For example, a highly regarded webpage about wedding reception DJs that does not list a solid dollar amount might still be a better resource than a thinly populated webpage with dollar signs all over it, but filled with less than useful information.

Out of curiosity, I have typed up this post which both exceeds the commonly excepted minimum word requirement to be taken seriously by Google (300 words) and that has two links with different anchor text to the webpage in question. The homepage of this site sits at around a 3 on the fabled PageRank scale based on various toolbars, so we aren’t talking about huge fire power, but it has been known to push up a page into the top 10 results for lesser used keyword searches. Thus, we’ll get to see two things. One, how far, if at all can these links push my Hub (which stands on the shoulders of HubPages and its "authority") and, two, what alternate searches might be less competitive, and potentially more profitable?

Stay tuned, or just grab the Make Money Writing Online RSS Feed.

Google Gets Serious About Webspam and Advertising Tricks Finally

For all of it’s talk, sometimes it seems that Google does very little to stop the continuous rise of webspam and SEO tricks aimed at drawing in the unaware user to a webpage filled with advertising (or worse).

However, recently, Google has finally taken a concrete step in the direction of improving the average user’s search results, and in the process, knee-capped certain webspammers and black-hat SEO or gray-hat SEO gimmicks, depending upon your point of view. In the process, it has improved the quality of the Internet, or rather, its move will have the affect of making the Internet a more accurate and reliable source of information over time. As junk websites and their “made for AdSense” (MFA) pages have their traffic dry up, the incentive to keep them going and to continue creating more low quality, but high search result ranking, junk sites diminishes. This also increases the ability of quality writers to make money writing online with AdSense.

How did Google finally achieve the goal of actually hurting webspam and garbage websites? Was it a secret improvement in its oft vaunted, and overrated, ranking algorithm? Did new duplicate content monitors, or an improvement in detecting low quality websites come online? Did the company finally start taking seriously, the numerous reports of garbage search results?

Nope. Instead, a simple change in the way a common search error is handled will end up making a huge difference.

Misspelled Searches Cash Cow Killed

misspelled-google-search-engine-results-rankings For years, it was a dirty secret that by targeting misspelled searches, one could make lots of money online.

An exploitation of webpages and webmasters who were honest and focused on quality caused legitimate websites to lose out to sham websites, and caused search engine users to end up reading dubious information about their search keywords, that is if they could find their way past the abundance of ads.

It was a relatively easy exploit. Social engineering is a way of hacking computers, or scamming users. The idea is to simply do something in such a way that most people would make an incorrect assumption about what what going on and therefore, hand over valuable information without knowing a mistake was being made. The best part (worst part?) of social engineering tricks is that they circumvent carefully constructed security systems, firewalls, and policies, that might have otherwise stopped the hacker from gaining access to anything valuable.

One common example of social engineering hacking are emails pretending to be official communications from a bank, company, or even another person in which they as the user to verify their username and password. The average user makes the incorrect assumption that the only way they would get such an email was if it was legitimate, and being good people, try and be helpful by following the instructions to click a link and enter their personal account information. Upon doing so, the website, which looks exactly like the real company’s website, says thank you and that everything is find now. The user goes on about their day, while the crooks empty their bank accounts.

Although much less nefarious, the most common (until recently) hack of search engines and searchers was to target keywords that were commonly (or not so commonly) misspelled. When the searcher typed keywords into Google’s website, the misspelled words made a better match with misspelled words on the scam webpages than they did with the correctly spelled words on legitimate websites. As a result, the search engine results pages (SERP) would show the junk webpages above the real websites’ pages.

For example, if a searcher was looking to buy a new computer monitor they might go to Google and type in “computer moniter” in an effort to do research or check prices. Quality websites, including those of the companies that make and sell computer monitors, would spell “monitor” correctly. Junk websites would create webpages with “moniter”. Google’s ranking algorithm would, not unexpectedly, rank the pages with the “same” word as the search (the misspelled word) higher than those with the close, but not exact, word monitor.

For the last year or two, Google has tried to help searchers in this situation by including a note at the top of search results saying, “Did you mean monitor?” However, the search results were still displayed based on the misspelled word. Many users, MOST users in fact, would just scan down the the results and use them instead of clicking on the link to take them to the real word.

The same tactic generated another issue for Google. Ads purchased through the AdWords online advertising program of Google typically targeted properly spelled keywords. Those bids were often not extended to misspellings which means that there was a double problem for Google. First, the search result accuracy on which its livelihood depends was compromised. Second, the lower number of ads targeted at misspelled words means that those ads were displayed at the top of search results for less money than they would be if the automated ad auction included all of the properly spelled words.

Google eliminated both problems with one tiny change in the way it handles misspelled search queries.

Now, instead of just trying to notify users that they misspelled a word, the search results now display, by default, the results for the correctly spelled word, and instead, the results notify users that if they really meant to spell the word the other way that they can click a link to take them to those results. In other words, Google now does the opposite of what it once did to display search rankings of incorrectly spelled keyword searches. By default the correct spelling is displayed and the incorrect spelling is listed as an alternate search, instead of vice versa.

The result?

Higher quality websites now show up even for average users who misspell their search words and the lower quality sites thrown up by those hoping to make a quick buck on a little bit of user ignorance have seen their traffic dry up. Additionally, Google has increased its advertising income by ensuring that the full gamut of ads participates in the computerized ad auction that determines which ads show up on top of those same search results.

This change is a win-win for honest webmasters and quality vendors, as well as for Google. The only ones hurt by this action are the underworld Internet marketer community, and frankly, most people are glad to finally have even a small whack made at them.