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Web Search & Marketing Newsletter - October 2009

Welcome to the latest issue of our monthly newsletter covering the latest web search and marketing news, trends and advice.

This month's edition is dominated by Google developments and issues. Firstly we look at the new Google Sidewiki feature which enables web users to add or review shared comments about any website or web page. We also review Google's recent blog posting that confirms the status of the keywords meta tag not being used as a factor for search rankings. Finally this month, we consider the Filter Manager function in Google's Analytics that allows users to block static and dynamic IP addresses, IP ranges and domains from its report data.

Read more about these stories below, or you can also browse through previous editions of the newsletter, either by month or by subjects covered. If you'd also like to keep up with the latest developments during the month, don't forget our web marketing blog - we've included a summary of some recent stories from the past month at the end of this newsletter. You can also now follow us for regular updates on Twitter.

On to this month's edition...

Introducing Google Sidewiki

The Google blog has just announced the launch of another notable new product, Google Sidewiki. This new feature allows searchers to contribute helpful information next to any webpage and can display a browser sidebar next to the web page, where users can read and write shared entries along the side of the page.

The new Sidewiki tool is an extension of Google's personalised search functionality and 'search wiki' option launched at the end of 2007, which allows users to adjust their own search results and add comments against ranked websites. The Sidewiki tool now takes this a step further by giving users the chance to share knowledge, experience or advice against web content.

In developing Sidewiki, Google says that a priority was for users to see the most relevant entries first, so they have developed a system to rank the comments that are added in the 'best' order. So, instead of displaying the most recent entries first, the Sidewiki ranks entries using an algorithm that promotes the most useful, high-quality entries. It takes into account feedback from users, previous entries made by the same author, and many other signals they have developed and tracked.

This should help to address the obvious concerns of website owners that competitors will post negative comments and reviews against their web content, in much the same way that review based websites have been trying to deal with competitive 'spam'. There is also the eventual question of how the tone of comments will be used by Google in the long term to add another layer of data to the relevancy of search ranking results.

Another feature of the Sidewiki is that the technology will match comments about a web page with other websites where the same content is displayed. This will help to broaden the value of the system and to reduce the need for duplicated comments or posts. Google is also going to use relevant posts from blogs and other sources that talk about the specific page of content so that users can discover their insights more easily, right next to the page they refer to.

Google Sidewiki is being made available as a new feature of the Google Toolbar so you need to download the latest version to access this sidebar and add or view comments. It's still going through a beta stage of development and Google will be improving and enhancing this feature in the coming months. You can read a more detailed review of this new tool by Danny Sullivan at Search Engine Land.

To find out more about using Google's Sidewiki and the potential implications for your website, please contact us.


Google confirms irrelevance of the keywords meta tag

Google's Webmaster Blog recently posted an article that confirmed the irrelevance of the keywords meta tag in the search engine's ranking results. This created quite a 'buzz' on Twitter, blogs and discussion forums, although it's been known for some years in the search engine optimisation business that Google ignores any content placed in this tag. However, there are still website owners or marketers who believe that the keywords tag is something to be concerned about.

When websites and search engines were being developed in the 1990's, the keywords meta tag was a section of code that was used to determine the content and relevancy of a website within search results. However, as Google has stated in their recent blog post, the early trend of search engines to judge pages only on the web page content - including the meta tags - led to keyword 'stuffing' or spamming which couldn't be seen by the regular user of a website and were techniques designed to manipulate the search engine results.

However, one of the main reasons for Google's success was that they placed more emphasis on so-called 'off-page' factors, such as the links pointing to a web page, and they ignored content that was hidden to the website visitor, as this was seen to be irrelevant and open to manipulation. As a result, the keywords meta tag was ignored as a factor within the search engine's ranking algorithm and so content placed here didn't have any influence on how a website would be ranked for a search query.

Therefore, obsessing about this meta tag and which words to include in it is mostly a waste of time. It is recommended that the keywords tag is still used on each web page, but mostly as a default tag with some of the main terms that are relevant to the site content as a whole. Recent tests have shown that some search engines, such as Yahoo! and Ask, do still use the tag as an element of indexed website content, but it's not likely to have a strong ranking factor. Google has also said that it's possible they could use this information in the future, but this is also considered unlikely.

A more interesting aspect of the Google blog post is a brief comment about the description meta tag, which is often used to display the short snippet of information about a web page that appears below the link to the site in the search ranking results. This content is also usually hidden within the HTML code of a web page, but will be displayed in the search results if there isn't relevant content that can be used from the visible page content. Google's comment is that this tag is important and should be written in a way to accurately describe the content on the specific page, so as to encourage the clickthrough rate from the search results, but they say this content also has no impact of the search ranking results. This is more debatable however, and this tag does carry more importance as part of an SEO campaign, for both Google (with their guidelines on best usage here) and on other search engines.

If you'd like to know more about meta tags and the implications for your website's optimisation strategy, please contact us now for a discussion.


Controlling visitor data through Google Analytic's Filter Manager

In our continuing series on the most useful functions within Google Analytics, this month we review how to control report data through the use of the Filter Manager which allows you to exclude static or dynamic IP addresses or domains from the reports.

The Filter Manager is an excellent function within Google Analytics that allows a company to remove data about its own internal traffic to their site, or exclude activity data from other known IP addresses that it deems to be providing unreliable statistics. This method of filtering enables the more accurate recording of relevant third-party visits to the site.

This is done by selecting the Filter Manager from the main Analytics settings page, then choosing either pre-defined or custom filters. These are in the form of exclusion of a single IP address, an you can exclude an IP address range through the use of Google's regular expression generator that can be found here. This can be useful for larger organisations that may have their IP addresses mapped to their domain name rather than to their ISP, so this is a useful way to exclude the company’s visits as a whole. Filters can also be used to include or exclude all traffic from a sub-domain so that a profile can be created within the Analytics account to track activity within one section of a website, plus geographic regions can be analysed by setting up filters and custom reports.

Custom filters provide more flexibility and more advanced settings to help exclude or analyse certain traffic from the Analytics reports. It is also possible, for example, to exclude internal traffic by cookie content, which enables the exclusion of dynamic IP addresses through custom filters. However, all computers in a company's network that have a dynamic IP address and need to be excluded have to visit a specially created page in order to have the cookie placed upon them first, so it can be quite complex to set up this level of filter.

By using Google Analytic's Filter Manager in any of these ways, the relevancy of the data retrieved about a company's website can be vastly improved and hence the resulting accuracy of the related figures can be deemed to be much more precise, reflecting only those visits from external users. If the internal site usage is also needed, then a separate profile for the same website can be created without the filters, which will therefore show the difference in usage statistics between the two.

If you'd like to know more about how this particular function, or how Google Analytics could be used to enhance your website's performance, please contact us for further information.


Recent articles from The Marketing Workbench

The Marketing Workbench is our regular web marketing blog covering news and comment on Internet marketing events and trends. If you want to keep track of current stories you can visit this section of our website on a regular basis, or set up an RSS feed. These are just some of the items posted over the past month:


We hope you've found this month's issue useful. Please contact us if you need any more information 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 to us.