How important is content vs style of your site?

If you’re considering having a website for your company; there’s plenty of decisions to make – from which company to host with, and who should design and code your website, or whether to make it yourself.

If you’re thinking of writing a website yourself, don’t fall into the trap of site generators and especially content generators.

It only takes a short Google search to see why these are a bad idea:

For example; this Google search:
Our firm’s reputation for providing quality service reflects the high standards we demand of ourselves. Our high standards, responsive service and specialized staff spell the difference between our firm and the rest

Generic text used this commonly is never going to perform well on search engines. Also, it’s accurate; but will your customers care to this style of writing? Having good copy on your site is as, if not more important than the design; and there’s a big difference between good copy and keyword-stuffing!

Remember, that the style of your site is only of important to your visitors. The content of your site, and how technically-sound it is, is important for your customers as well as search engines.

Googles changes the operators

If you’re a regular user of Google, I’m sure you’re familiar with the plus operator. It’s used as a tool by power users to narrow down results to ensure words will be in the search results.

If not, you’re probably familiar with Google rewriting your query to try and help your results; most commonly this is seen with misspelling; but often a word or two may be dropped from your query to assist with search terms you may have meant.

As Eric Schmidt once said, “We know where you are. We know where you’ve been. We can more or less know what you’re thinking about”. They also know you can’t come up with the best search terms for the results you want.

Sometimes things go wrong – often, the wrong word is dropped. Previously, adding the + operator; e.g. [winlirc +audiocapture] would solve this, now it requires quote marks – e.g. [winlirc "audiocapture"] to give useful results.

If you make a search on Google using the + operator to ensure a word is used, you’ll now receive the following message;

Showing results for google +replaced plus with quotes
The + operator has been replaced.
To search for an exact word or phrase, use double quotation marks: google “replaced” plus with quotes

Here’s a screenshot:

Screenshot of Google error - replaced the plus operator with quote marks

Google have replaced the plus operator with quote marks

So what’s going on? Google are changing some of the operators; they’ve updated their documentation on their help page. The negation operator, ‘-‘, still works as expected; as does the double-quote marks for both phrases, but now also for words too.

We’ve certainly noticed that over the last few weeks, for longer search queries some words are dropped that are seen as, in Googles own words; ‘evidence might come from language analysis that Google has done or many other sources’. However, in our experience, the search results have been mainly to give popular results, rather than more specific results that the search terms imply.

As an aside – as always, the underscore is treated as a special case – and is another reason why it should be avoided in URL structures, always use hyphens instead!

So what does the ‘+’ operator do now? For now, it seems very little.

Why has it been replaced? Nobody seems to know, although both the plus and quote operators were probably very similar in code.

What’s the problem? Well, it’s a minor gripe, but it now takes at least four key presses (and navigating both sides of the word or phrase); instead of just two. Google also seems to being less ‘choosey’ on keywords entered by the user; instead intending to match more popular results.

Of course, real expert users can continue to use the nfpr=1 querystring to disable most of Google’s corrections.

Since Google haven’t made an announcement, if anyone else has any more information about this change, please let us know in the comments.

SSL Google won’t be sending you queries

In a fairly unexpected report, Google have announced that SSL will be enabled for a number of users by default. Along with GMail, secured by default last year, and Twitter and Facebook providing secure versions as an option, Google will be introducing secure searches to users over the coming weeks.

Google have provided a secure search at https://encrypted.google.com/ for a while, more information on it is provided in their help, but it ensures that no third-party can see your searches.

It also means that webmasters will not receive the query that the user has searched for. This was done by parsing the referer* in the HTTP request. For example, url= was the url clicked on, the q= represented the query, and cd= as the position the link was in. An example script, in PHP, can be found on this site; but could apply on any landing page in any language.

This is a major blow to webmaster who use this data to analyse keywords; and it will break those sites that automatically generate content based on your search query. This was often used for analysis – but also for link farms and advertising sites for gathering keyword information and misleading users. This hopefully will reduce some of the link farms that use this technique; but some webmasters do use this to highlight search terms on the landing page.

So what does this mean? Webmasters will still know users came from Google, but not any of the information about the search. Users who encrypt their search will not be passing on their keyword terms via the HTTP header.

You can however, receive a list of the top 1,000 search queries through Google Webmaster Tools, and presumably will still continue to receive keyword and other information from Google Analytics.

The official announcement can be found on the Official Google Blog.

* referer is spelt here with one ‘R’ as defined in the HTTP spec.

 

SEO Exploit via DNS “piggybacking” found in the wild

A recent report out from the ISC (the ‘Internet Storm Center’, a program of the SANS Technology Institute) warns domain owners to check their DNS records.

We offer a DNS Records tool on frag.co.uk/tools/ that may be some help to our customers.

The report details around 50 organizations that have had new machine names added to their DNS zone information. These were then pointed to sites used to boost the search engine positions of pharmaceuticals, personals, and adult web sites.

A good explanation, and some other sites that are affected can be found on the ISC Diary – What’s In a Name blog post.

For example, the Federal Commission of Taxation in Argentina at www.cfi.gov.ar have a subdomain they presumably were unaware of, at “buy-viagra.cfi.gov.ar”, thankfully now suspended.

We run our own internal DNS servers here at frag.co.uk, and can proudly announce that all our domain owners are unaffected, secured and safe from this attack. Please feel free to contact us for more details.

Do you outsource your DNS? Would you ever catch something like this?

We may be able to help. One of our totally free tools on frag.co.uk/tools/ offers a “DNS Records” tab that allows you to keep an eye on your DNS records. Do let us know how you get on.

hello from us, and goodbye from them

We’re avid readers of technology news, and like to keep up-to-date with interesting announcements and useful tools. We’ll be posting to our blog regularly with news and tips.

First Post! After 14 years and over 15,000 stories posted, Rob Malda of the popular technology site, Slashdot, has said goodbye. As an avid read of Slashdot for many years; and many of the best posts coming from CmdrTaco himself, it will be interesting to see the direction Slashdot takes.

At the same time, it has been announced that Apple CEO, Steve Jobs will resign. Taking over will be Tim Cook, the current COO. As one of the early adopters of Apple computers  Stephen Fry has weighed in with his views of these events.

Of course, this has been seen as a dramatic announcement, and it is surely to have an effect on Apple.

We’ll be posting more news and articles, and we’ll looking forward to hearing your comments.

eMail: web@frag.co.uk
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