Category Archives: Google

Keyword Tracking with Caphyon’s Advanced Web Ranking

I’ve been honing my skills over the last few months with optimizing our e-commerce sites for search engines. Its been a long, arduous task. One that requires the utmost patience. When things go wrong, it seems like the world is ending. But, like one of my favorite books was famous for saying, Don’t Panic!

Over this period of time of getting up to speed on search engine optimization, I’ve been looking for a tool to help me track our rankings for keywords we’re going after. I had been using this huge Excel spreadsheet to track rankings on a bi-weekly basis, but it was a pain in the butt to update. I found some online tools that would let you track a few keywords, but nothing all that awesome. That, and I really wanted a desktop application for this. Don’t ask me why.

So, I was reading YOUMoz the other day and came across this post about the author’s troubles with MSN Live Search. She mentioned she used this tool to track keyword positioning, so I decided it was worth a look. I downloaded the 30 day trial version and installed it on my MacBook Pro.

Setting it all up with keywords I was interested in for my site was a little time consuming, but I didn’t mind that. I gave it a run and I got a great breakdown of keywords we ranked well for and keywords we didn’t. This is cool as now I can see where I need to put some work in. But that wasn’t the coolest part. The following day, I ran it again. Now I could compare my results from today to the previous day. Kick. Ass. Even better, it stores your results for each day, so you could see how you did over the course of a month or a quarter or a year.

I find this to be a huge time saver because I don’t have to manage my rankings. All I have to do is add new keywords I want to track. When I want to update my positioning results, I just click a “Play” button and away the tool goes. I highly recommend this application to anyone tracking their SERPs in any of the major search engines.

Has Google Tweaked Their Search Algorithm?

In mid to late November, I noticed traffic to one of my e-commerce sites dropped dramatically. Some quick research in Google Analytics turned up that our Google organic traffic dropped off significantly. This came as a huge shock to us because we were cruising along really, really well for some important key terms that drive quality traffic to our sites. This equates to lost dollars since we aren’t getting the visits that could turn into conversions.

After some research and conversations with other web developers I know, I came to the conclusion that nothing I had really done to our site would have caused the drop off in traffic. What’s worse is that we seemed to have dropped out of the Top 100 for key terms that we had previously ranked high in the Top 10 for. Really. Big. Problem.

So what happened? My guess is Google tweaked up their search algorithm a little. My reasoning came from the Google tools that I use on a daily basis to manage my sites. Take a look first at the image below. What it shows is our Google organic traffic from November 1, 2008 through December 4, 2008.

What you can see here is that we were flying at something around 1,800 to 2,300 visits a day. Good stuff. Then around November 11, things dropped down sharply. I kind of panicked here, but didn’t change the site up any. Then on the 14th, we were back up again. Way up. For the next 5 days, we were up around 2,600 visits a day, even peaking over 2,700 one day. Then on the 15th, things fell apart again. We were down slightly. Ok, only one day. Don’t panic.

Then I did panic. On November 20th, we were down to just over 1,000 visits. Ouch. Over the next 2 weeks, we went as low as around 850 visits. This was a problem. What happened? I didn’t change up the site in a way that should have affected our rankings from all the research I had done on my own and with other developers. So what gives? Take a look at the image below, which shows Google crawl stats

See the huge spike around the second week in November? That’s about when things started to hit the proverbial fan. This spike looks like a deep crawl of our site by Google. I’ve never seen Google crawl our site this much all at one point. To me, this indicates changes were afoot over at Google. What changes, who knows. Only Google does. What I do hope is that our site comes back up in the rankings as its a well built site, adhering to Google’s guide for building quality sites.

The bright spot here is that we’re starting to come back for some of our key terms and our organic traffic from Google is looking better. At the same time, our traffic from MSN and Yahoo has continued to get better, so this is another indication that Google changed something up. Also, using Google Webmaster Tools and Google Analytics can provide you with great insight into what Google sees of your web site as well as how people find and use your site. I highly recommend using both if you don’t already.

Google AdWords Now Has Device Platform Setting

I just set up a couple of new campaigns in Google AdWords this afternoon and, for the first time, noticed that you can now select a device platform for your ad campaigns. The choices are desktop or laptop computers, or mobile devices that support a full web browser. These mobile devices are devices like Apple’s iPhone. Click the screen shot below to see these settings:

This is definitely interesting because there are surely some instances where you’d want to restrict your ads from showing up on a mobile device. I’m considering turning it off for our campaigns because we run an e-commerce site and its really unclear at this point if people are really into shopping online using their mobile devices. I have no doubt that this will become widespread behavior in the future, but with mobile devices with full browser capability just coming to market, I have a feeling this is a small niche crowd that would shop via their mobile device.

Google’s New Promote and Remove Feature

I’m not sure how many people have seen those two new icons next to Google search results, and . Apparently its a new way to say, “Yeah, this result was useful to me or No, its not.”. I’m guessing Google wants to see what actual human beings think of the results that they’re displaying. Obviously the Google engine is only an engine, based on a machine and code, so it’s not 100% perfect. Grabbing the human factor of a useful or not so useful search result is something they’d definitely want to know.

But that got me to thinking, how useful is it to them? I’d think eventually people are going to try and abuse this in order to put down results for their competitors and promote their own. Granted, that will all depend on how much Google weighs the information they get and what they do with it. Perhaps they just want to gather it and do nothing with it to affect how results are actually displayed. Or maybe they do. Who knows. I haven’t seen much information on it other than people discussing what they’re seeing in different forums, etc.

Whatever the reason is and what it means for SEO down the road will be interesting to see. I for one will be keeping a close eye on anything I see about this.

Update:  So apparently this is all part of Google’s SearchWiki. When you’re logged into Google Accounts, you’ll see these nifty buttons. It allows you to customize your own search results. This doesn’t mean the index itself gets affected. However, I’d still bet my lunch on the fact that Google eventually uses these human “modded” search results in weighing its own search results. Hopefully though this keeps abuse to a minimum.

Whats Up with Irregular and Inconsistent Google Search Results?

I’ve noticed some wackiness (at least what I consider wacky) with Google search results lately. We’ve been working slowly but surely on improving our rankings for one of our sites. We haven’t been making any sweeping changes, but instead making small tweaks here and there to title tags, meta descriptions, adding some relevant content to our pages, and getting our pages linked to from other relevant sites.

What I’ve noticed over the last week though, is that a couple times a week, we’ll drop off the face of Google search results for one of our top terms. Its not like we’re falling from #3 to #10 or from Page 1 to Page 2, but falling off the results map altogether. What’s even weirder is that a couple of days later, we’re back up to where we were before the “hiccup”.

We’ve also noticed that search results at any given time of the day can vary greatly. We can show up ranked #2 or #3 for a top keyterm, then later on in the day, #9. Or, perform one search and we’re #3 and immediately search again and we’re #6. Sometimes, I can search for a phrase and get one ranking while a co-worker can do the same search and get a completely different ranking. I’ve been trying to figure out why this happens, but I keep coming up empty.

I never expect to keep rankings forever as the web changes almost constantly, but you’d think that you’d get at least some consistency in search results. Especially for a site that is fairly well built and adheres to what Google calls best practices. But what I am really confused by is the wholesale change to our rankings for certain keywords in one fell swoop. I’d expect to see rankings slip and slip, not disappear all together.

It could very well be that all of this is just a lack of a complete understanding on how Google search results and rankings work. I’m not a complete newb to SEO, but I’m not an expert either. If anyone can enlighten and educate me on what I’m seeing in our search results, I’d be certainly grateful.

Replacing SLI Systems Search with Google Mini

SLI Systems Search
Google Mini

For the last few years, we’ve used SLI Systems Search for web site search on both Fright Catalog and YumDrop. When we started the Import Costumes project, we decided that we’d try something different because of the increasing cost of using SLI’s service. The cost is based on the number of search queries, so the more popular the site’s become, the more the cost of search increases.

Instead of building out our own search functionality, we decided to purchase a Google Mini on the recommendation of a fellow e-tailer we know. They said the integration was fairly easy and for their searching needs, it fit the bill. So we decided to give it a shot. For the $1,995 that it cost, we’ll definitely save some money on search in the long term. We knew that we’d be giving up some of the features we get with SLI, most notably how SLI’s search algorithm “learns” different searching patterns and improves the results for any given search term as well as “automatic” related and suggested search terms.

The biggest task for the Mini’s integration was the refining of search queries. SLI allows us to refine by category and price, so we wanted to be able to do the same thing with the Mini. Luckily, you can do this by searching meta tags for different values. It took a while to figure out that some of the search parameters like as_q and partialfields weren’t working as I expected so I ended up building the query term much like you’d use on Google, i.e. inmeta:price:$10.00..$20.00 parrot where you’re looking for parrot type products from $10 to $20.

Since product content doesn’t change all that often, we’ve also been able to cache search results as XML files on the file system. We keep them around for a 24 hour period, just in case something does change. This is great because it’ll keep some load off of the Google Mini while speeding up displaying results to our customers for popular search criteria.

We’ll definitely miss out on the learning capabilities of SLI and not being able to automatically have related and suggested search terms is a bummer. That might be something that the Google Search Appliance can do easier since you can upload data feeds to it. Maybe we’ll graduate up to that as we get more of our sites running search from the Mini. Adding them by hand is a pain, though you can batch upload them. Even with that, you still have to manually build your lists.

One other feature that I’d like to see from the Mini (if anyone from Google is reading this) is a way to automate the emailing of search reports on a regular basis. It’d be nice to have a report sent to me monthly with top search terms as well as the results they returned. This is great for deciding what product to buy and what product to sell aggressively.

Google & Apple’s iPhone

There is an interesting article over on CNET about Google and Apple outsmarting all of the cell phone companies over the next 5 years. Google is coming out with the “gPhone” (either a phone OS or an actual phone) and Apple has its iPhone. Now, when the iPhone was first coming out Kyle and I talked about how cool it would be to just run Skype on the iPhone over WiFi and just circumvent the cell company. Basically VoIP, but mobile. Super neat!

Well, this now gets more interesting. With Google aimed to bid on the 700MHz spectrum in January, the cell phone landscape could change dramatically. Now we have wide spread WiFi, available at a low cost. You can use your “gPhone” or iPhone to talk to anyone and everyone over this WiFi network. What does this mean? No more traditional cell companies. No more crazy cell phone charges and taxes (granted, there will probably be government WiFi taxes). No more 2 year term agreements that bind you to crappy devices on an even crappier network.

At the end of they day, I think this article has pretty much hit the nail on the head in saying that in the next 5 years, Google and Apple will have snookered the cell business really good. They’ll be the ones left out in the cold.

This Is Why I Love Gmail

This link via Reddit to a page on Google’s site for GMail shows why I love Gmail so much. More than 70% of mail to hit the GMail system is SPAM. That’s a lot.

GMail Spam Chart

Image Courtesy of Google

What’s amazing is that less than 1% of it gets through to a user’s Inbox. I can definitely see this in what hits my account. Using GMail for all of my emailing needs (I have 10+ accounts set up in GMail), I definitely get my share of SPAM. Especially to a couple of accounts I designate for use when I think I’ll get spammed. What’s great about this is that all of my email gets filtered and flagged by Google so I don’t have to worry about explicit SPAM messages for stuff I don’t care about. The one downside? Well, Google knows a lot about me. But so does the U.S. Government…

Google Apps Not Secure By Default

I read in another blog post the other day (I don’t recall where) that most people don’t realize when the bookmark Google applications, they aren’t secure by default.  Even is you go to, GMail won’t redirect to the secure version.  It will just serve your mail over the unsecure connection.  The article went on to mention if you’re in GMail for instance, and open Google Docs, the Google Docs link won’t be secure either.  This allows the information to be unencrypted as it goes over the wire.  Thinking of this again this morning, I realized my bookmark for GMail was indeed insecure.  So I changed the link from http:// to https://.  The article also said that if you open other apps from GMail even on a secure connection they new window/tab won’t be secure, so you should have secure bookmarks for each app.  I found this to not be the case.  If your Gmail connection is secure via HTTPS and you open Google Docs or Google Calendar, that link will be secure as well.  Just a little tip for all you Google app users out there!