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Google Answers Important Questions from Webmasters

November 14th, 2008

google-groups-logo.jpgToday I received a nice little tip from one of my SEO-oriented email newsletters about an informative question-and-answer dialogue that took place on October 22 over at Google Webmaster Help. In this session, Matt Cutts and a few other important figures who work for Google answered questions from people in the webmaster community via live chat. Most of these questions pertained to search engine optimization issues, some of which have been the subject of much debate.

Although Google’s staff did not directly answer all of the questions (which is not surprising because the company is known for vagueness and lack of transparency), there were a few persistent myths debunked along with some additional nuggets of information that one can reasonably infer from the general tone of the answers provided. Since the full text of the conversation is rather long, I have summarized the most useful answers in bullet point format below for those of you who do not want to read through it all.

  1. On site age and length of domain registration: Matt Cutts significantly downplayed this as a factor in the rankings, even saying that it doesn’t matter in the majority of cases. Google did not rule it out as a factor completely, however.
  2. On submitting your site to directories: Google acknowledges that this suggestion was removed from the Webmaster Guidelines, but says that they have NOT changed the way that links from directories are weighted.

  3. On cross-linking sites within the same company or network: Linking to your other sites is OK if these are relevant to the user experience, but Matt Cutts advises against linking together large numbers of irrelevant domains, especially if some of them include “bad neighborhood” types of sites such as content scrapers or link farms.
  4. On whether links from article directories have been devalued: In typically vague fashion, Google does not directly answer this. However, Matt Cutts noted that some article directories were of questionable quality because of too many copied articles and downplayed the importance of publicizing your site in these venues as a priority.
  5. On .gov and .edu domains giving more “link juice”: Matt Cutts clearly debunks this one — the type of domain extension does NOT affect the weight of inbound links. It is true, however, that some .gov and .edu sites will gain significant link juice over time because of other people seeing them as “authorities” and linking to them, which has always been my theory for why this myth has persisted.
  6. On sitemaps: Google recommends the use of HTML sitemaps, especially in cases where you are not already using an XML version. This is important for helping the search engines to find and index all of the pages in your site.
  7. On moving your site to a different domain: According to Google, the best way to do this while preserving as much PageRank and link juice as possible is to use 301 redirects.
  8. On subdomains vs. directories: Google says that both are good in terms of ranking when you want to create a separate section of your site. The company does not seem to favor either option and simply states that it is a matter of personal preference.
  9. On whether bounce rate can affect your ranking: “JohnMu” from the Google staff gives a frustratingly vague response that does not directly answer the question. He does state that high bounce rates could affect your ranking indirectly because people who are quickly repelled by your pages are less likely to link to them. However, almost anyone who is at least marginally SEO savvy already knows this.
  10. On using and ranking for images: A site’s ranking in Image Search does NOT affect PageRank. However, if you use images on your site that are optimized and relevant, they can still help to bring in traffic, especially with Google’s introduction of Universal Search, which mixes images and videos into the search results.
  11. On whether a site’s load time plays a role in ranking pages: Google staffer “Nathan J” dodges the question and says “if your site loads fast, your users will be happy; if it loads slow, users will be less happy.” Pffft…like I didn’t already know that?!
  12. On whether Google might favor sites with technically valid markup: Interestingly, JohnMu cites a study done by Opera indicating that currently less than 5% of web pages actually validate according to W3C standards. Therefore, says the Google staffer, “it wouldn’t make much sense for us to give the other 95% of the pages any trouble.” So the short answer condenses to “no.”
  13. On whether PageRank of a subdomain influences the main domain: No — PageRank is calculated for each page, not for whole domains or subdomains. Although I already knew this, it’s an important fact to reiterate here for those who may be unaware of how PageRank works.
  14. On dynamic vs. static URLs: Google staffer Maile Ohye says that the search engine has improved its processing of dynamic URLs to the point that newer or less experienced webmasters no longer need to worry about doing rewrites. Meanwhile, webmasters who have already completed rewrites will not be penalized or rewarded. The overall tone of his response was along the lines of “don’t worry, be happy.”
  15. On shared vs. dedicated IP addresses: Google confirms that this does NOT make a difference in your site’s rankings. The only potential issue of concern here is that if your site is loading very slowly because it is on a shared IP and you are receiving heavy traffic, you may be able to speed up your load times by moving to a dedicated IP address.
  16. On PageRank display in Google Toolbar: JohnMu defends the toolbar display by saying that it is “one of the easiest metrics to show to users” and “still provides value to users.” So it looks like we won’t be getting rid of the PageRank display or the caste system that it has encouraged anytime soon. This is unfortunate because it has become obvious to me that the PageRank indicator can be misleading when judging the quality of a site, especially at the lower end of the spectrum.
  17. On duplicate content: JohnMu at Google confirms what I discovered months ago, namely that search engines do NOT actually penalize sites for duplicate content. The exact quote in this case was “as far as I know, none of the search engines penalize duplicate content — they just ignore the duplicates.” The notion of a duplicate content penalty is one that has been extensively debunked by Jonathan Leger and others; moreover, I have confirmed this non-penalty on my own site as well. Some of my most popular pages in terms of rankings and traffic right now are the ones that include lists of quotes, most of which are duplicated across many other sites.
  18. On using hyphens vs. underscores in your URLs: Matt Cutts recommends using hyphens for new sites, but also said that if you’re already using underscores without any problems, then you do not need to change them.
  19. On getting backlinks from “bad” sites: Google fielded several questions from people concerned about whether spammy or pornographic sites linking to them might cause problems for their rankings. In all cases, everyone was assured that there are no penalties for links that are beyond a webmaster’s control.

    Overall, this was a fairly informative help session, especially for new webmasters who are concerned about how Google will look at their sites. Whenever I have some free time, I might check out some other areas of this Google Webmaster Help group. There were several references during the session to the possibility of using this section of Google to find out more information from other webmasters about any issues that may be causing problems for a particular site. I still need to file a reconsideration request with Google about my disappearing PageRank display from back in March, so if this does not work I may be able to find out if there are any remaining issues with my site that still need to be fixed.


One Response to “Google Answers Important Questions from Webmasters”

  1. comment number 1 by: Webtoolkeeper

    Google always answer valid questions… Especially when your if your first question was answered before, google will respond immediately on your succeeding questions… I remember I has a conversation with one of their supports about adsense for feeds..

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