Can Search Engines Trust Social Media?

I recently wrote that search engines are ignoring more and more their old metrics that were so easily exploited by savvy Search Engine Optimization specialists, and that they are instead reading the more trustworthy signals that come from social media sharing and posting to measure a website’s popularity and relevance.  It was just a matter of time, however, before social media interaction metrics would be manipulated as well.

Google and other search engines attribute high relevance to social media pages.  Search engines sense that because of the sheer volume of user interaction taking place on social media profiles, social media pages are results of high importance to someone searching for a particular personality.  If you Google any celebrity, his or her Facebook and Twitter accounts will likely be in the top 5 results.  This may seem par for the course for pop celebrities such as singers, actors, and talk show hosts, but even if you Google Barack Obama, his Facebook and Twitter accounts show up before all the major news outlets and even before whitehouse.gov. 

But of its total 271 million active accounts, Twitter just announced that 23 million, roughly 8.5%, are not human.  These accounts are controlled by automated bots that tend to be used for spam and auto-responding to posts.

Beyond bots, however, some 70+% of the total 900+ million accounts on Twitter are classified as inactive for not having logged in in over a year.  One must wonder, where did these hundreds of millions of abandoned accounts come from? Those millions and millions of accounts, totaling over twice the population of the United States, do not belong to individuals who just lost interest.  It is well known that there are people for hire out there creating hundreds or thousands of accounts for the sole purpose of having those accounts follow a celebrity or politician to make them appear to have millions and millions of loyal followers.  In fact, such services are openly advertised and are claimed to be an industry standard (http://fakefollowerstwitter.com/). Imagine how much a pop star or presidential candidate would like to tout that they are the top-followed personality on Twitter and how much their sponsors might be willing to pay some shadowy techies to make it happen.  The root of the problem is obvious.

TrustMe

Social media platforms themselves will inevitably have to address this issue.  Social media websites rely on advertisements that have value based on how many human eyes see them and/or click on them.  I would imagine that it’s a tough pitch for Twitter to convince a business to advertise on a seemingly popular and well-followed page while the news has come out that an unknown but presumably massive number of that page’s following accounts are actually fake. And among those accounts that actually are active, a significant portion are bots that may click through ads and run up the advertiser’s bill.

Search engines, likewise, do not want their algorithms to reward social media pages that employ bots or falsified accounts that deceptively drive up traffic on their profiles.  These tactics are cut from the same cloth as the techniques that SEOs used to exploit to boost a website’s authority and relevance in the eyes of search engines. The tools are already out there, such as StatusPeople’s Fake Follower Check, for individuals to see how many of their Twitter followers are fake.  I predict that in the near future, search engines will begin to integrate similar tools into their algorithms to downgrade social media pages that employ these spammy techniques, just as they have done for conventional websites over the past several years.

Further reading:

http://www.fastcompany.com/3034279/most-innovative-companies/twitter-reveals-how-many-of-its-active-users-arent-quite-human?partner=rss

http://www.forbes.com/sites/johngreathouse/2012/08/27/celebrities-with-the-most-allegedly-fake-twitter-followers/  

http://www.businessinsider.com/number-of-users-who-abandon-twitter-2014-2

As Google Improves, so too must SEO Strategy

Google is a lot of things to a lot of people nowadays, but at the core of its network of ventures is its status as the #1 search engine in the world. Today Google searches account for over 67% of all search engine traffic in the US. Google did not achieve this dominant market share overnight — it took years of toppling all the popular search engine competitors that rose and fell in the olden days like Alta Vista, AOL, and Ask Jeeves. And how has Google beaten out their competition? By being the best at connecting online users with the content they want to find, and by getting better and better at it every day.

Because so many people trust Google to provide them the best search results, there will always be an inevitable game of tug-of-war afoot between Google and Search Engine Optimization specialists. SEOs will always be trying to uncover the secret methods Google uses to determine which websites are worthy of those top search engine results, and Google will always have to be one step ahead to prevent SEOs from exploiting tricks to push not-so-good websites high up in the rankings.

Target keywords in website titles and body content, links from other websites, and target keywords in those inbound links (anchor text) originally held great weight in Google’s measurement of the quality of a website. And in a nascent World Wide Web, those were decent indications of the quality, relevance, and popularity of a particular website for a given search term.

Over the years, however, SEOs have figured out how to easily manipulate those particular factors. “Packing” high-traffic target keywords unnaturally into websites in which they do not necessarily belong and “farming” hyperlinks through spammy directories or paying for them unfortunately became common lowball practices (aka “black-hat” techniques) to push websites higher up in Google’s rankings. Through the recent algorithm updates named Panda, Penguin, and Hummingbird, Google has reduced the importance of those metrics to prevent junky sites from cluttering their trustworthy results.

No matter how Google changes its algorithm, however, the volume of traffic going to a website will always matter. Today, for SEO specialists, quality content with the goal of having that content shared on social media platforms is key. Social media sharing today provides an important high-volume source of online traffic referrals, so Google naturally notices a website that a lot of people are sharing/recommending out of their own volition.

Encouraging social media users to share webpages requires the production of quality shareable content. Therefore, website programming and optimization is one piece of the current SEO puzzle among many. SEO now also benefits from the input and experience of writers, social media specialists, public relations professionals, and content marketing experts in developing and distributing share-worthy content in a way that it can and will be viewed and shared by lots of social media users.

That is why Robmark Web, with its parent company Robertson & Markowitz Advertising & Public Relations, can offer an SEO package that no other Savannah SEO company can. With over 20 years of experience in public relations, advertising, SEO, and website design, we offer our clients in Savannah, Hilton Head, Jacksonville, and beyond the best possible strategies to help your potential customers find your website through Google.

For more information on Robmark Web’s Search Engine Optimization and Social Media services, please visit RobmarkWeb.com.

Further reading:

http://www.theguardian.com/media/2014/jul/28/google-seo-social-media-search-marketing-panda-penguin-hummingbird

Pianos for People Website Launch

Robmark Web, your Savannah-based web development company, is excited to announce the launch of a new website for the St. Louis-based, non-profit organization, Pianos for People.

The new Pianos for People website is a responsive site, that will function across all viewing platforms, and is complimented with a beautiful and simple design.  The website’s navigation presents information in a stylish, straight-to-the-point manner. Users can easily find information about the organization including the leaders of the organization and any news or updates within the organization. Users will also be able to find information regarding applying for a piano, donating a piano and signing up for free piano lessons through Pianos for People’s piano school.

Pianos for People is a non-profit organization that connects people of limited means who need pianos with pianos who need people.  There are thousands of people whose lives can be enhanced through music and thousands of silenced pianos anxious to come alive again! Pianos for People gives donated pianos to families, troubled teens, under-funded schools and others, in need of an artistic outlet.

If you live in the St. Louis area you can apply for a piano, donate a piano or apply for free piano lessons. If you are like us and live outside of the St. Louis area, you can donate to the cause via monetary donation online.

 

Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport Website Launch

With Savannah being a big tourist destination, the Savannah/Hilton Head International airport receives a lot of traffic with tourists coming and going. Tourists and locals alike are also coming and going from the Savannah/Hilton Head International’s website, which is why it is important to have a visually appealing and user-friendly website. That is exactly what Robmark Web did.

Robmark Web has rebuilt the airport’s website into a visually appealing experience where people not only go to book a flight, but can optimize their travel plans, with the terminal guide and transportation information, and even interact with the airport on social media.  The biggest goal with the new website was to make it responsive, which means it will function across all viewing platforms. By making the Savannah/Hilton Head International website responsive, we have placed them ahead of the curve in terms of this technology with the rest of their industry. While recreating the site, we have transformed the layout to be more modern. This new modern layout and brand image led the airport into a new, fresh branding campaign.

One big difference you will see on the website is the division in navigation between traveler pages and business pages, which helps to better organize the site’s information for users. Some other great features the website offers are the terminal and parking guides; which allows for an updated, interactive, easy-to-use tool for travelers. The travel tips and apps offer frequently asked questions that help first-time travelers, while also making the travel process easier for tech-savvy travelers. The randomly generated Traveler Survey questions are something fun and interactive that also works as a way for Savannah/Hilton Head International to gather information to continually better their services.

Be sure to check out the new Savannah/Hilton Head International website that Robmark Web launched last month; you can even book a trip while you’re there!

Savannah airport

Mobile Web Traffic and its Impact on SEO

It’s official – for the first time in history, as of 2014, Web traffic from mobile devices has outpaced Web traffic from desktops. Nearly everyone, from businesspeople to leisurely browsers, is accessing the Internet on mobile and tablet devices more and more. I recently blogged about how this growing shift in Web usage has revolutionized webpage design and how web designers are transitioning towards responsive design with mobile interface at the forefront.

Now the consequences of a dominant share of mobile Web users are affecting search engine optimization as well. Google announced last year, in so many words, that neglecting user experience on mobile devices will hurt your website’s search engine rankings. It is no longer good enough to patch up a website so that it at least works on mobile devices and then leave it at that. Websites that load too slowly on mobile devices (longer than 1 second), webpages that rely too heavily on Flash, and mobile-switch websites that always redirect mobile users to a splashpage/homepage regardless of which sublevel page they were looking for will see their Google rankings diminished.

And Google is right to make these adjustments. In their quest to supply users, including mobile users, with the best content on the Web, Google should pass over websites that cannot effectively supply content to users on mobile devices.

Google recommends that websites implement responsive web design, for which the website’s HTML remains the same, no matter the user’s device, and CSS styling repositions, resizes, or hides certain elements depending on the screen resolution of the user. Google prefers responsive websites to other types of mobile sites for the simple fact that a responsive website, from the standpoint of its URL structure and its HTML/CSS code, is the same website no matter the device on which it is rendered and therefore can be trusted by Google as a consistent and reliable source of content. Other mobile website strategies, such as dynamic websites (different HTML depending on device) and mobile-switch sites (different URLs depending on device), are prone to misconfigurations that will affect mobile interface and page ranking.

Take a look below at some of the responsive websites that we at Robmark Web have developed for our Savannah web design clients:

Further reading:
http://searchenginewatch.com/article/2302895/Matt-Cutts-on-SEO-PageRank-Spam-the-Future-of-Google-Search-at-Pubcon-Las-Vegas

http://searchenginewatch.com/article/2354054/Mobile-Site-Configuration-101-How-to-Choose

http://searchenginewatch.com/article/2353616/Mobile-Now-Exceeds-PC-The-Biggest-Shift-Since-the-Internet-Began

Takeaways from Google’s Transparency Report

Google has been in the news recently for having publicly released a Transparency Report that analyzes how many emails sent to/from Gmail accounts are protected with encryption. In Google’s terms, an unencrypted email is as “open to snoopers as a postcard in the mail,” meaning that anyone from an identity thief to the NSA can simply read unencrypted emails without difficulty as they pass across the Internet. This issue concerns anyone who sends private information via email, which today includes just about everyone.

As part of their Transparency Report, Google released a chart showing the percentage of emails that were encrypted when sent between Gmail.com and list of high-traffic email domains. Domains, in this sense, equate to companies that either send or receive emails to/from everyday Gmail users, from social media networks to ecommerce websites to personal email services. The chart can be found at the link below. While reading this chart, it is important to consider which domains send/receive emails that contain sensitive, private information and which domains mainly send newsletters containing public announcements. For example, some domains such as Groupon.com and ConstantContact.com encrypt very few of their emails sent to Gmail users, but these companies’ emails are generally newsletters sent in bulk to hundreds or thousands of people, for which privacy matters little.

On Google’s report, many high-traffic domains that send private information do, to their credit, encrypt the vast majority of their inbound and outbound emails: Amazon.com, Facebook.com, Linkedin.com, Twitter.com, AOL.com, MSN.com, and Yahoo.com.

The red flag that many readers may overlook is that two notable high-traffic email domains, Comcast.net and Roadrunner.com (Time Warner Cable’s ISP/email service), encrypt less than 1% of their emails sent to Gmail accounts.

According to Google, email encryption via Transport Layer Security, or TLS, can greatly deter snoopers and is as easy for companies to enable as flipping on a switch. Even so, Google announced that they will be stepping in and releasing a new plugin for their Chrome browser that will encrypt emails end-to-end. Google even plans to make this plugin’s encrypted emails so secure that not even Gmail itself can read the contents. At first glance, this may seem strange for Google, a company that relies on selling advertisements targeted towards users based on the contents of their emails. But perhaps Google sees the long-term value of fostering consumer trust and loyalty by getting ahead of the hot topic that is online privacy.

Google’s Transparency Report:
http://www.google.com/transparencyreport/saferemail/

Further reading:
http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2014/06/03/google-email-security-gmail-snowden/9920473/