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Web Search & Marketing Newsletter - June 2006

Welcome to the June edition of our monthly newsletter on web search and marketing issues – this is the 25th issue of this newsletter and the start of the 3rd year of these regular articles.

This month we consider the role of link building for a website and some of the best options to attract links into a website these days. We also review the new look design that Yahoo! has just launched and the impact this has had on the traditional directory information provided by this website.

Finally we report on one of Google’s new tools – Google Trends – which can provide some fascinating information on search behaviour over the past few years, and we include the latest in our series of monthly book reviews, this time looking at website usability issues.

To find out more, please read on below and follow the links to the full articles available on our website. If you want to refer to any items included in previous editions, you can find them here

On to this month's news...

Better link building strategy

The number and quality of links pointing to a website is a key factor that search engines take into account when ranking websites. It is challenging for business websites to build these inbound links, and in the past many have looked to submitting to 'directory' type websites, or building reciprocal links with others.

Google recently changed their quality guidelines to state that they discount the value of 'unnatural' links - and this has also been mentioned by Google's head of webspam, Matt Cutts, when he discussed the search engine's recent 'Big Daddy' update:

"The sites that fit “no pages in Big Daddy” criteria were sites where our algorithms had very low trust in the in-links or the outlinks of that site. Examples that might cause that include excessive reciprocal links, linking to spammy neighbourhoods on the web, or link buying/selling."

This could be seen as rhetoric - but our experience has been that although beneficial on other search engines, links from unrelated low status sites have little impact on Google. In light of this, here are some suggestions for 'alternative' link building strategies - many of which hark back to good 'old fashioned' marketing!

* Interesting content - consider setting up a news section, blog or newsletter on your website. If well promoted, your content could attract links from other sources in its own right. Writing which explores a niche, or is controversial, or which summarises disparate information such as a top 10 list or comparison often makes good 'link bait'.

* Press releases - if you currently distribute press releases, you should also consider submitting these to a range of online press release websites. It is possible to optimise the release for search phrases, and include links back to your own site to build on the number of links coming into your site.

* Highly targeted links - rather than focusing on quantity, target a small range of potential link sites which rank well for your main target terms, but do not compete with your own site. Tailor your approach and consider offering payment to increase your chances of obtaining a link.

* Develop a useful tool and host it on your website - this can often attract links from other websites and repeat visits from the tool's users.

* Vary your linking - consider using a variation of descriptions and link text for any links you request. This could help you target a wider range of search terms, as the search engines take this external 'link text' into account, plus the links may also look more 'natural' to the search engines.

Contact us now if you would like to discuss these suggestions in more detail or if you would like us to review or implement a link building strategy for your website.

Yahoo! takes on a new look

Yahoo! launched its new site design during May, initially on Yahoo.com but with a preview tab on the UK domain as well. The new look site offers more access opportunities from the home page, which you would expect from a market leading portal service, and whereas search takes a prime position on the site, the original Yahoo! directory service has been further relegated from view.

Yahoo! remains one of the most popular websites in the US and the third most popular search tool in the UK but, ever mindful of competing with MSN and other similar sites, Yahoo! has now updated its home page layout to provide fast access to a wide range of services to users. The design also makes use of the full screen width for 800 pixels, which is now becoming the norm for many computer users, but gives you the option to switch to a narrow layout or to change the colour scheme of the page.

Search is a prominent part of the new design, with the main search panel and a range of search options across the top of the page – including image, video, audio, local, and shopping searches. Yahoo! has also introduced the Yahoo! Answers option where users can ask questions in a discussion forum format for other users to post responses.

Yahoo!'s wide range of services are listed on the left of the screen, enabling quick links into these options and this section will eventually offer personalisation options. The Personal Assistant panel at the top right offers registered users access to their own services, such as Yahoo! Mail (where you can view a preview of unread messages), or Yahoo! Messenger (which indicates when ‘friends’ are also logged in). News stories and tabbed sections in the main body of the page make for a good clear design offering lots of services and content.

Most notable in this relaunch, however, has been a further demotion of the Yahoo! Directory. This was the cornerstone of Yahoo!'s original creation and growth and became the yardstick for all other hierarchical directories on the web. Links to the browsable categories have now completely disappeared from the home page and there is simply an option within the search panel to use the directory for results.

So how important is the Yahoo! directory now? We believe it is now a minor player in the search market, with fewer visitors to the category sections and the main benefits of a listing here will just be from the link value from the site – in just the same way as the Open Directory. However, Yahoo!’s main search results will sometimes show the directory title and description for a listed website, which can reduce the ranking opportunities for an optimised site. So it’s debatable whether a submission here is still worthwhile and although Yahoo.com still charges the $299 annual listing fee for a fast track guaranteed listing, the UK version of Yahoo! offers a free option but no guarantee of review or a listing, which is again much like the Open Directory model.

These changes on Yahoo! illustrate how the web has changed over recent years, with the rapid growth in the number of websites - and the demand for search tools to provide the widest range of options - meaning that directory-based sites are no longer sustainable as a general source of web information. Yahoo! has now fully adapted to this demand.

If you'd like to know more about the new Yahoo! design, or about getting your site listed on the Yahoo! Directory, please contact us for more information.

Google Trends gives new insight to search behaviour

Google Trends is one of several new offerings from Google Labs - known as Google’s “technology playground” - where Google showcases its favourite new ideas and offers new technology for trial by users. This new tool provides some fascinating data into the search trends for different terms on Google over the last few years.

Google Trends uses Google’s vast stores of search and user data to give comparisons between the search activity for up to 5 terms over the past 2 years. Examples that are shown by Google include searches for ‘good’ versus ‘evil’ and ‘mothers day’ versus ‘fathers day’, the latter showing distinct spikes of search activity around March and June, as would be expected (but also note different dates for these days around the world).

Although this data is currently in beta form, it is clearly of interest to internet marketers for comparing the search activity of different keywords but also provides an interesting perspective on search trends stretching back to 2004. Drop-down menus are provided for users to easily restrict the data to a particular time frame or region and users can narrow their query by excluding selected keywords using the ‘minus’ sign or restricting results to the exact order of the query using quotation marks, as you would with a normal search query.

Google also illustrates the comparison graph with relevant news stories along the timeline which put the graphs into perspective and allude to the reasons for the peaks and troughs in search activity.

Additional information includes a top 10 ranking system showing the most search activity by cities, regions and languages. This part of the system has already come in for some criticism for inaccuracies and approximations leading to Google Trends being described as “interesting and entertaining” and little more.

One of the key problems to arise – partly in reaction to a recent Sunday Times article - is the location of searches which is still flawed because it is only determined by a user’s IP address which often only reflects the location of the user’s ISP (Internet Service Provider). So if you are a BT broadband user the chances are that Google thinks you live in St Albans (Hertfordshire), and according to the Sunday Times article you live in the most narcissistic town in the UK! Google is well aware of the problems, stating that “We hope you find this service interesting and entertaining, but you probably don't want to write your PhD dissertation based on this information.”

Try Google Trends for yourself - and to read more about this service read the official ‘About Google Trends’ page or if you’d like to discuss the results, please contact us for more details.

Book review - Don't Make Me Think!

This month our book review takes a slightly different angle from the web marketing titles included in previous newsletters. The 2nd edition of Steve Krug’s highly respected title on website usability – Don’t Make Me Think! – is an easy to read and entertaining guide to the key elements that help to make some websites perform better than others.

Read the full review of Don't Make Me Think! here.

We hope you've found this month's newsletter informative. Please contact us if you need any more details on the items covered, or our advice on any aspect of your website's performance. Also, if there are any issues you would like to see in future editions of this newsletter, please submit your suggestions.