Sep 28 2012

Matt Cutts Just Announced A Google Algorithm Change

Google’s Matt Cutts just announced a new Google algorithm change via Twitter. Not too much in the way of details so far, but he says it will reduce low-quality “exact-match” domains in search results. It sounds like an extension of the last change he tweeted about, which was aimed at improving domain diversity. Here’s the new tweet: Follow @mattcutts Matt Cutts @mattcutts Minor weather report: small upcoming Google algo change will reduce low-quality “exact-match” domains in search results.   Reply  ·   Retweet  ·   Favorite 13 minutes ago via web · powered by @socialditto Have you seen any effects from this update? Let us know.

Sep 17 2012

Some Webmasters Skeptical About Google Update Actually Improving Domain Diversity

On Friday, Google’s Matt Cutts tweeted about a new update to Google’s algorithm, which he said, “improves the diversity of search results in terms of different domains returned.” So far, however, we’ve seen little evidence that the update has done what it is supposed to do on a wide scale. In fact, so far, we haven’t seen any examples where it’s specifically been improved. There are some examples out there of where it has not improved. Danny Sullivan at Search Engine Land points to the results for the query “christopher jagmin plates,” for example. Search for that, and you’re likely to get ten results on the first page from ChristopherJagmin.com. You start getting into some other domains about halfway down page 2. Likewise, Barry Schwartz at Search Engine Roundtable points to a query for “bobs furniture”. This one isn’t quite as bad, but still, four out of seven results are from Yelp. In a WebmasterWorld forum thread on the topic, one user comments, “I’m still seeing typical results in travel though – for a sample ‘xxx hotel reviews’ no less than 8 out of 10 results are Tripadvisor. Admittedly they are on two different domains (.co.uk and .com), but surely Google can work out they’re effectively the same site. Looks like they still have some work to do.” Another adds, “I share that sentiment and find it borderline idiotic to return the same site up to 87 times in the top 100.” One member says, “Diversity in search results used to be standard in Google results. They’ve really messed up their search results and are now backpedaling.” Brett Tabke, WebmasterWorld’s founder, even joined the conversation, saying, “Remember a few months ago when I had a search that returned 20 results from the same site? That type of multi-result is not happening anymore.” Just because the examples haven’t been easy to spot, does not mean Google’s update did not perform as intended. You can always point to examples of where Google updates didn’t work. The question is, how often are you organically happening onto search results pages where Google is plastering results from the same domain all over the page? If the answer is, “not very,” than perhaps Google succeeded in its goal. As Google will often say, no algorithm is perfect. What do you think? Have you noticed any improvement?

Sep 14 2012

Google Launched An Update This Week To Improve Domain Diversity

Google launched an algorithm update that affects the diversity of search results. Google’s head of webspam and Distinguished Engineer, tweeted: Follow @mattcutts Matt Cutts @mattcutts Just fyi, we rolled out a small algo change this week that improves the diversity of search results in terms of different domains returned.   Reply  ·   Retweet  ·   Favorite 20 minutes ago via web · powered by @socialditto There have been complaints in recent weeks about Google showing search results pages with a lot of results from the same domain for a lot of queries. Presumably that will be better now, and users will get a more diverse set of results in more cases. Or maybe it’s just about spreading the love among more domains in general (and not just per page). That’s as much as we know about the update for now, but it’ll be interesting to see if the change is noticeable on a day to day basis. There has been talk from webmasters that there may have been a new Panda update this week. We’ve not heard from Google on that front, and it’s unclear at this point whether this could have been the change people were noticing. Google’s big list of algorithm changes for the month of August is due out any time now, and when it’s released, we’ll get more insight into the direction Google is going on, and its core areas of focus in recent weeks. Stay tuned.

Sep 10 2012

Are Bing’s Results Better Than Google’s?

Does Bing deliver better search results than Google? Bing thinks so, and has launched a campaign trying to convince people that it’s right. It’s called “Bing It On,” and in addition to television ads, it includes the site BingItOn.com , where Microsoft is encouraging users to take its version of the Pepsi challenge – a blind comparison test between Bing results and Google results for whatever queries you wish to try out. Which search engine’s results do you prefer: Google’s or Bing’s? Let us know in the comments . According to Bing, people “chose Bing web search results over Google nearly 2 to 1.” Notice they said “Bing Web search results over Google,” rather than just “Bing over Google”. More on that later. Also notice, they said “chose,” and not “choose.” That’s because this is based on a study Microsoft commissioned, and may not reflect the results from users using BingItOn.com (although I’d be very interested to see how it turns out once they’re done with the campaign. Maybe they’ll show us that later). A Bing spokesperson told WebProNews in an email, “Although most people identify themselves as Google searchers, an independent study commissioned by Microsoft Corp. shows people chose Bing Web search results over Google nearly 2-to-1 in blind comparison tests. Given those findings, Bing decided it is time to let people see for themselves that there is a better option in search.” Bing sheds a little more light on the study in a blog post . “How was the test conducted?” the Bing team says. “An independent research company, Answers Research based in San Diego, CA, conducted a study using a representative online sample of nearly 1000 people, ages 18 and older from across the US. The participants were chosen from a random survey panel and were required to have used a major search engine in the past month. Participants were not aware that Microsoft was involved.” “When the results were tallied, the outcome was clear – people chose Bing web search results over Google nearly 2:1 in the blind comparison tests,” the team says. “Specifically, of the nearly 1000 participants: 57.4% chose Bing more often, 30.2% chose Google more often; 12.4 % resulted in a draw.” Bing also notes that the “overall sampling error rate for the study is +/- 3 percent at the 95 percent confidence level.” The following video shows Bing taking it to the streets, betting people an Xbox 360 that they’ll like Bing better than Google. Of course, in the video, everyone loves Bing. “When we previewed our side-by-side test results with people outside the company, I was often asked how we were able to make these gains with presumably less data than the other guys,” said Dr. Harry Shum, Corporate Vice President, Bing R&D in a blog post . “While there are too many variables to give a fully scientific explanation, I would say our long-term commitment and investment in machine learning for relevance has enabled us to steadily scale out relevance experimentation and make rapid progress.” “Of course, as we all know, relevance is subjective and queries are dynamic and always changing. But we feel confident that it’s time for customers to come give us a look, and for a conversation on searching quality to occur in our industry.” The Bing It On challenge, while very much a way for Bing to try and lure users away from Google, was also an opportunity for Bing to talk up some of the back-end tweaks it has made, much of this through extensive experimentation. “Relevance experimentation at Bing involves training machine-learned models on large amount of training data using thousands of features,” Shum wrote. “In the early years, our models were based on neural networks. But as the amount of training data, number of features and the complexity of our models increased, the inner loop of experimentation slowed down significantly. At one point, it took us several days to finish just one experiment end-to-end. We knew we needed to do something.” “To overcome this challenge, we turned to our deep partnership with MSR to develop a technology we call Fastrank,” he added. “FastRank is based on boosted decision trees which are much faster to train and thus attractive for relevance experimentation.. But there was skepticism on whether the quality of ranking produced by decision trees could match that of neural networks. Our colleagues at MSR took on this hard problem and developed new optimization algorithms that allowed us to not only match the quality of neural nets, but also train more than an order of magnitude faster.” Google seems to think it is lending Bing some help as well. Google’s Matt Cutts said in a Hacker News thread , “Last time I checked, it looked like Bing was still using clicks on Google search results as a signal in Bing’s rankings.” More on all of that here , but basically Cutts is referring to a big search industry story from 2011 , when Google set up a sting operation to show that Bing was drawing from its search results. It appeared that Bing was using Google user search queries, gaining access to user data via an Internet Explorer setting. But even still, that would only be one signal, and Bing claims to use thousands of them, compared to Google’s regularly referenced “over 200″. Bing may be using a lot more signals, including one from the world’s most popular search engine, but does it really translate to better search results? Cutts also pointed out that the BingItOn tool struggled with a query for “bingiton”. Google did a better job of delivering results for Bing’s new tool than Bing did. I replicated the query personally, and was greeted with a similar result. Bing was showing stuff for the cheerleading “Bring It On” over Bing It On results, and Google was showing Bing It On at the top. Some readers, however, say they were getting Bing It On at the top for both search engines, so some personalization signals may have come into play, although I can’t honestly understand why Bing would tailor “Bring It On” results to me, especially given that I’ve been covering Bing since it launched (I have no recollection of ever searching for this movie). But, as embarrassing as it might be for Bing to show how Google is better at delivering results for a tool that Bing created to show how much better Bing results are than Google’s, this is still just one query, and the truth is that it doesn’t really prove very much. Anyone can easily find an example of Google providing a less than perfect results page. The truth is that no matter how many queries you perform, Google is going to win on some of them, and Bing is going to win on some of them. What do users think? The Twitter reaction is interesting. Here’s a sample: Follow @bing Bing @bing Think Google is better than Bing? The results may surprise you. http://t.co/Swqx9W4F #BingItOn http://t.co/2Fp68oQs   Follow @leovader Verified Ghost @leovader @bing i want to switch to bing.. but i’m so scared. how can I handle shaming friends/family? what if they sacrifice me to their Google God™   Reply  ·   Retweet  ·   Favorite 2 minutes ago via Twitter for iPhone  · powered by @socialditto Follow @prettyblackbae that’ssoraven @prettyblackbae BING ALWAYS GOT TV ADS LIKE WE GUNNA STOP USING GOOGLE   Reply  ·   Retweet  ·   Favorite 4 minutes ago via TweetDeck  · powered by @socialditto Follow @lefrenchfab Le French Fab @lefrenchfab I tried the #bingiton contest proposed by Microsoft, comparing Bing to Google for search. My result was Google. Yours? http://t.co/xf0gr7uK   Reply  ·   Retweet  ·   Favorite 5 minutes ago via Tweetbot for Mac  · powered by @socialditto Follow @ShitOjaySays Shit Ojay Says @ShitOjaySays Google this, google tht… From nw on i’ma “bing” tht shit!   Reply  ·   Retweet  ·   Favorite 10 minutes ago via Mobile Web  · powered by @socialditto Follow @ItsKiddoHere Kiddo @ItsKiddoHere From now on, I’m gonna use Bing instead of Google. Never knew it was so cool. After all, it’s from Microsoft. Being awesome is natural.   Reply  ·   Retweet  ·   Favorite 20 minutes ago via web · powered by @socialditto Follow @jaredmckiernan Jared McKiernan @jaredmckiernan the Bing It On challenge is kind of biased when i know all the SERP formats…bing sucked pretty hard in my small sample of queries   Reply  ·   Retweet  ·   Favorite 34 minutes ago via web · powered by @socialditto This one represents a significant obstacle Bing faces, regardless of search quality: Follow @steinberg Aaron Steinberg @steinberg I don’t think I’ll be switching, but turns out Bing gave me better search results than Google. http://t.co/Zj5Sel88   Reply  ·   Retweet  ·   Favorite 7 minutes ago via Buffer  · powered by @socialditto This kind of mentality leaves one to ponder just how much the general population really cares about which one is technically providing better results more of the time. Of course, this has been part of the discussion since Bing launched. Even if it can deliver better results, most Google users are probably happy enough with Google, and simply aren’t looking for an alternative. As far as the Bing It On tool goes, you have to consider that this is not really an accurate portrayal of the search experience on either Google or Bing. Bing says right on the site, “Based on a comparison of web search results pane only; excludes ads, Bing’s Snapshot and Social Search panes and Google’s Knowledge Graph.” The Knowledge Graph is one of the offerings Google is prouder of than anything. Since launch, the company has taken just about every opportunity possible to talk about how revolutionary it is, and what a major step forward in search it is. Bing usually touts its social search features with similar enthusiasm. It strips out the search filtering options, personalization features, and the user interface entirely. There is more to the search experience than what is presented by Bing It On. Then there are the home pages. People love Google doodles, for example. Some love Bing’s daily photos. Some like the way Bing does image search or videos. There’s also the fact that people use other products from these companies. Google users are often signed in, and can easily navigate around the various services they use from one unified navigational experience. Search is just a feature of the Google experience. The point is, it’s not just about the “ten blue links,” which ironically, is a point that Bing has made in the past . So, moving beyond the results as Bing is presenting in the Bing It On challenge, which search engine offers the better all-around user experience? Which one does have the better results? Let us know what you think in the comments .

Sep 7 2012

Now Is Your Chance To Ask Matt Cutts A Question

If you’re reading this, you’ve probably seen some of the Webmaster Help videos Google’s Matt Cutts has done. He regularly takes questions from webmasters about various Google behaviors, and uploads responses to YouTube. Sometimes, they’re longer in more in depth, and sometimes they’re quick and to the point. We usually share them here as they become available, as they’re often filled with useful information, even if it’s not always completely new info. Cutts took to his blog this afternoon to announce that he’s currently taking questions for the next series. He says he plans to record some videos next week, and asks that people submit their questions via this Google Moderator page . So, now is the time to submit a question if you want a shot at getting an answer from Google’s Distinguished Engineer and head of web spam. The man can hardly walk through the hallways at an industry conference without being bombarded by people with questions. His answers are clearly in demand. Here’s your chance to get an answer without having to wait in line. Or, of course, you can just check out the Moderator page, and just upvote the questions you think are best.

Sep 7 2012

Cutts: Last Time I Checked, Bing Was Still Using Google As A Signal

Microsoft unveiled its big “Bing It On” campaign this week. Part of that is a site , which allows users to perform a search query, and choose which results they prefer. After five rounds, the tool reveals whether your picked Bing or Google for each one. The one you picked the most, must be your search engine of choice. It’s an interesting comparison of organic search results between the two rivals, but it strips out large parts of the user experience for both search engines. It doesn’t include Google’s Knowledge Graph or BIng’s social bar, for example. It’s hardly an accurate representation of today’s search experience for either engine. Still, Bing says people prefer Bing to Google two to one: On Thursday, after the Bing It On site was launched, Google’s Matt Cutts tweeted: Follow @mattcutts Matt Cutts @mattcutts Tried searching for bingiton on http://t.co/RArZYm0D . Bing had trouble finding itself: http://t.co/l7s3SK3k   Reply  ·   Retweet  ·   Favorite 19 hours ago via web · powered by @socialditto I tested the query out myself, and found similar results to Cutts’. It must be embarrassing for Bing to have Google beat Bing on a query for the very tool that Bing is promoting to show that its results are better for Google. However, it’s unclear how many users actually had these results. In the comments section of an article we did on that, some users said BingItOn.com was the top result on both. Perhaps some personalization signals come into play, though I can’t imagine why Bing would associate the cheerleading movie “Bring It On” or its musical counterpart with anything from my personal life. Honest. Despite the differences in results in this example, there are other queries that provide much more similar results. Cutts had something to say about that too. In a comment thread on Hacker News ( via Barry Schwartz ), Cutts said, “Last time I checked, it looked like Bing was still using clicks on Google search results as a signal in Bing’s rankings.” It’s funny he should mention that, because I couldn’t help but be reminded about that whole ordeal as I was playing around with Bing It On. Early last year, Google ran a “sting operation,” as Danny Sullivan who first reported on the story called it, that appeared to show Bing “stealing” at least top results from Google, by monitoring how Internet Explorer and Bing toolbar users use Google. Google created some test search results pages returning results for queries that nobody would ever search for, and results that wouldn’t make sense for such queries. For example, a query for “hiybbprqag” would return a top result from TeamOneTickets. A query for “mbzrxpgjys” would return RIM’s homepage. A query for ” indoswiftjobinproduction” would return a result for Sandra Lee Recipes at FoodNetwork.com. “The only reason these pages appeared on Google was because Google forced them to be there,” explained Sullivan at the time. “There was nothing that made them naturally relevant for these searches. If they started to appear at Bing after Google, that would mean that Bing took Google’s bait and copied its results.” Bing’s results were mirroring each of these examples, though Google found that only a handful of the pages tested proved the point. In response , Bing’s Harry Shum wrote in a blog post, “We use over 1,000 different signals and features in our ranking algorithm. A small piece of that is clickstream data we get from some of our customers, who opt-in to sharing anonymous data as they navigate the web in order to help us improve the experience for all users. To be clear, we learn from all of our customers. What we saw in today’s story was a spy-novelesque stunt to generate extreme outliers in tail query ranking. It was a creative tactic by a competitor, and we’ll take it as a back-handed compliment. But it doesn’t accurately portray how we use opt-in customer data as one of many inputs to help improve our user experience.” “The history of the web and the improvement of a broad array of consumer and business experiences is actually the story of collective intelligence, from sharing HTML documents to hypertext links to click data and beyond. Many companies across the Internet use this collective intelligence to make their products better every day,” Shum continued. “We all learn from our collective customers, and we all should.” “From its inception, we have had what we believe is a distinct approach to search, and the features and innovation in Bing – from our new user experience and visual organization approach to our focus on inferring user intent and helping customers complete complex tasks, Bing has added a new voice and new experiences to search,” he added. “We never set out to build another version of an existing search engine.” After that post, Cutts and Shum (as well as Blekko’s Rich Skrenta) had a discussion about the whole thing at the Farsight Summit. Throughout that, Cutts maintained the position Bing was basically cheating, and Shum echoed the sentiments of his post, adding, “My view is that we just discovered a new form of spam or click fraud and the Google engineers helped us to figure it out. He said that he wished people could share things like that with them before taking it to the press and getting a “wow effect”. He also said that it would be great if he and Matt could compare signals that they could use. At one point, Shum played the “Google has a toolbar too” card, but Cutts said users see “big red capital letters” letting them know about the data sharing as soon as they install it. Cutts also said at the time, “We don’t use clicks from Bing’s users in Google’s rankings.” In the new Hacker News thread, when asked how Microsoft has access to Google’s algorithm data, he replied, “IE and Windows, I believe.” He then points to a section in Microsoft’s IE 8 privacy policy , which says: “When Suggested Sites is turned on, the addresses of websites you visit are sent to Microsoft, together with standard computer information. … Information associated with the web address, such as search terms or data you entered in forms might be included. For example, if you visited the Microsoft.com search website at http://search.microsoft.com and entered “Seattle” as the search term, the full address http://search.microsoft.com/results.aspx?q=Seattle&qsc0=… will be sent.” “Most people have little idea that allowing a feature called ‘Suggested Sites’ will result in their Google searches and clicks being sent to Microsoft, or that Microsoft will use clicks on Google search results in Bing’s ranking,” said Cutts. “MSFT also uses something called the Microsoft CEIP (Customer Experience Improvement Program), and I think that’s either opt-out already or they’re making it opt-out in Windows 8–it’s built into the ‘Use Express Settings,’ I believe.” “Again, I haven’t looked at this very recently, but if you’re using a recent version of Windows and IE, you’re probably sending your searches and clicks to Microsoft unless you’ve been very careful about how you configured your computer,” he concluded.

Sep 6 2012

Bing’s Tool For Showing How Much Better Bing Is Than Google Struggles With A Search For Itself

Bing launched Bing It On today. It’s a big campaign Microsoft is running, trying to show people that they will prefer Bing results in a blind comparison with Google results. It’s live at BingItOn.com . As I pointed out in a previous article , it really doesn’t take into account a number of significant parts of the user experience of either search engine (like Google’s Knowledge Graph or Bing’s social bar), but it is what it is. Google’s Matt Cutts pointed out via a tweet, that a search for “bingiton” on BingItOn shows Bing having a hard time with the query, compared to Google: Follow @mattcutts Matt Cutts @mattcutts Tried searching for bingiton on http://t.co/RArZYm0D . Bing had trouble finding itself: http://t.co/l7s3SK3k   Reply  ·   Retweet  ·   Favorite 17 minutes ago via web · powered by @socialditto Sure enough, Bing’s results (on the right) want to give the user “Bring It On” the movie. Then “Bring It On” the musical. Then pictures of “Bring It On”. Then “Bring It On” the movie again. Then, finally, BingItOn, followed by a news result about Kix Brooks and “Bring It On Home”. Google’s results (on the left) show three news results for Bing’s endeavor at the top, followed by BingItOn’s landing page, and a bunch of other stories about BingItOn. Oops.

Sep 6 2012

Google’s Matt Cutts On Why Ads Can Be More Helpful Than Organic Results

Google’s Matt Cutts participated in an interesting discussion in a Hacker News thread , in response to an article from Jitbit, called, “ Google Search is only 18% Search “. Despite the title, the article is really about how little of the screen is used to display non-paid search results for a Google SERP. In the example author Alex Yumashev uses, Google was found to dedicate 18.5% of the screen to results (not including ads). The author found a screenshot from years ago, where Google was found to dedicate as much as 53% of the screen to results. Read the article if you want to get into the methodology, the resolutions, etc. There’s certainly room for debate around some of that, but in more general terms, there’s no denying that Google’s SERPs have changed over the years. Cutts argued that the article has a number of “major issues,” though most of his points are based on the notion that the article is about Google reducing “search” related elements, as opposed to just classic non-paid results, which I don’t think was really the point the author was trying to make. Cutts points out that the left-hand column is about search, that the search box is about search, and that whitespace is about search. He notes that there are “tons of searches” where Google doesn’t show ads. “A lot of people like to take a query that shows ads and say ‘Aha!’ but they’re forgetting all the queries that don’t show ads,” said Cutts. “Not to mention that our ads aren’t just a straight auction; we try to take into account things like the quality of the destination page in deciding whether and where to show ads, just like we do with web search results.” Of course, Yumashev did acknowledge that he was looking for a screen with as many ad as possible, indicating that this is specifically about the pages that do show ads. The “help-desk app” query the author used for the first example certainly does have a fair amount of ads “above the fold”. In his argument, Cutts said, “We actually think our ads can be as helpful as the search results in some cases. And no, that’s not a new attitude.” One reader challenged him to come up with an example. “Ads can totally be useful,” Cutts responded. “Here’s one from earlier today: [att cordless phones]. For Google’s web results, we often interpret a query [X] as ‘information about X.’ The #1 web search result I see is http://telephones.att.com/att/index.cfm/cordless-telephones/ which does have information about cordless phones from AT&T. But I was looking for which models of cordless phones AT&T has. There’s an ad that points to http://telephones.att.com/att/index.cfm/cordless-telephones/… which is actually more helpful because that shows me a bunch of different models.” “Now you can argue that Google should be able to find and somehow return the page that AT&T bought the ad for,” he added. “But that can be a hard problem (Bing returns the same page that Google does at #1 for example, as does DDG). So that ad was quite helpful for me, because it took me to a great page.” You can read the Hacker News thread to see Cutts’ comments in their entirety, and completely in context with the rest of the conversation. He also goes into why he thinks Google+ is a good business tool. There’s no question that Google is cramming more non-traditional content into search results pages than it used to, particularly with things like the Knowledge Graph , Search Plus Your World , and now the Gmail results , which are in opt-in field trial mode. Google is showing more direct answers , and on a larger number of SERPs, it’s showing less organic results . In fact, Google is reportedly even testing SERPs with less organic results than previously thought. It’s not all about ads (though Google’s revenue certainly is). Hat tip to Barry Schwartz for pointing to the Hacker News thread.