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There are helpful links and unhelpful ones

If you’re interested in search marketing, I would thoroughly recommend the weekly “Whiteboard Friday” videos on Moz, a site which most SEO specialists rate very highly. Last week they tackled “Why the Links You’ve Built Aren’t Helping Your Page Rank Higher“, which gave a good insight into some of the difficulties surrounding search engine optimisation.

I won’t go over what’s said in the presentation (although I’d recommend watching it), but there are two things we should take away. The first is that although we want links to our sites and our content, there’s no point in having just any old links. The ones which make a difference are from good sites, which are related to what we do, and are clearly linking to us as a reference for something they’re discussing. A link to your home page from a poorly-rated directory isn’t going to do you any good at all, especially if Google believes that there’s a commercial element to the link.

The second thing to realise is that building good links is really hard to do, and the opportunities are really limited. Throwing a couple of hundred quid each month at someone to “do SEO” isn’t going to get you an effective external link profile. That’s something you’ll need to work on yourself, using your knowledge of your industry, its media and your contacts.

Agonise over your web page titles. This is important!

Controlling the way your results are displayed in Google may seem like an academic subject, but it’s important. It can make a huge difference to the clickthroughs you get from Google, which – down the line – will affect your company’s sales. As simple as that. Companies can throw a lot of money at “SEO” (often not knowing what that really involves), without realising that perhaps the single most important element of SEO may be getting the titles and descriptions looking good – and that’s something which is easy to manage, in-house.

Even the best-reading titles and descriptions can be ruined, however, if they get cut off by Google. So it’s important, when you’re writing them, to know how many words you can use. There’s now new data available on that, following the introduction of Google’s recent redesign.

In the past, analysts have recommended that you “count characters”, and have suggested around 60 characters is the upper limit for titles, and 160 characters for the description. However, Google is now using a fixed-width box, and things get much more complicated, because the number of characters which fit in the invisible box depends on which characters you’re using: “W”s, for example, are much wider than “i”s.

This might sound impossible to calculate, and I’m not even going to tell you what the pixel limits are here, because none of us can count them by hand. Fortunately, some folks who like data crunching have come to the rescue. Firstly, they’ve worked out how many pixels we’ve got in which to fit our titles and descriptions. Then they’ve developed tools we can use to test things against this pixel limit.

There’s a new Title Preview Tool on The Moz Blog, for example. And website audit applications such as Screaming Frog and A1 Website Analyzer have also included “pixel count” into their results.

I can understand companies agonising for hours over a print advertisement headline, even though it might only be seen by a few hundred people, and be history after a couple of weeks. But it doesn’t make sense if you don’t spend at least as long on a web page title, which may be seen (in the Google results) by tens of thousands more people, for years to come. You need to audit the titles and descriptions on all of your web pages, and you need to keep on top of them.

Those readers who use BMON for their Google AdWords campaigns can always ask us for a complete titles and descriptions analysis – we’re happy to provide these, free, at any time.

Further reading:
Page Title & Meta Description By Pixel Width In SERP Snippet (Screaming Frog)
New Title Tag Guidelines and Preview Tool (The Moz Blog)

Google results: are you being cut off in your prime?

Last week I drew your attention to the new style of Google results, and posted some before-and-after screenshots. There’s now even more detail in a very thorough comparison called “Google’s 2014 Redesign: Before and After” at The Moz Blog, which you might like to take a look at. One of the more interesting observations there is that with the titles on the results being in a larger (and rather unpleasantly spaced-out) font, there isn’t room for as many characters. This may mean that your carefully-calculated titles might now be cut off in their prime, as the following example demonstrates.

Remember the example I frequently use of a really good-looking Google result? Even with Google’s un-asked-for addition of “BMON” on the end, it was very neat:


Now, however, they’ve gone and made it look blummin’ awful (below). Why they add “BMON” on the end, only to then chop it off, I just don’t know. Maybe they’ll get this sorted, but in the meantime, if this result was important to me, I’d be looking to get it shortened. It might be worth investigating your most important results in Google.


The onward march of Google

“Watching Google change can quickly become an obsession”, wrote Dr. Peter J. Meyers recently in a post titled Future SERP: A Glimpse at Google 2014 which was published on The Moz Blog. And for some of us, I’ll admit it’s true. In the article, Meyers rounds up the changes he’s seen in recent months and projects forward to suggest a quite different look and feel to the Google results by this time next year. There are implications for your website design and certainly for your advertising, so the predictions are worth some thought.

For those of us in the technical sector, the majority of our prospects come via desktop PCs, although mobile and tablet use continues to grow. However, for a good idea of how Google results are likely to change on desktop PCs soon, just do a Google search on a tablet right now. Gone is the yellow AdWords panel at the top, and the whole page seems to be made out of modular blocks.

Cosmetic changes like this might not affect your Google traffic in an obvious way, but they might require some changes to the search engine optimisation techniques you employ, and you’ll certainly benefit from establishing your “brand” with Google in any way that you can. That big panel you sometimes see on the right, called the “knowledge graph” (and which many people wrongly assume is an advert), is going to become more widespread, I’m convinced. It’s another step towards the point where the Google results are no longer the gateway to sites, but replace them completely. Of course, we’ll all be increasingly furious the more Google does this, but it’s already happening. Try typing in the name of a current movie and your closest large town, and see what you get. Google has lifted the movie times, the map and the trailer from other sites so that you really don’t need to visit any of them. Indeed, it’s hard to do so (click on the cinema link – you don’t get taken to the cinema website any longer).


Peering further into the future, what Google is aiming at, I suspect, is for most organisations and businesses to just supply it with data which it can display in its own way, eliminating the need for users to visit the actual website. This might sound outrageous, but we may end up with no choice. If you don’t supply the data, they may just lift it from your site anyway, and who’s going to stop them?

Time to move your site to a new web host?

Another tremendous article on discusses the importance of how quickly your website appears to the user. Improving Search Rank by Optimizing Your Time to First Byte is not for the less technically-inclined, but to summarise, a massive study has found “a clear correlation between a faster time to first byte (TTFB) and a higher search engine rank”. In other words, the faster your web page begins to appear, the higher up you’ll come in the Google results.

The secret to improving this speed, or keeping it at an acceptable figure, is in the closeness of the server to whoever’s viewing the site, and the configuration of the site itself. So if your market is the UK, make sure you have a server in the UK. If it’s worldwide, think about a distributed system (known as a CDN). And if the speed of the site is still slow, you need to get the technical people to take a look at what’s going on. It’s definitely worth having a go with the Web Page Test site mentioned in the article. Moving your site to a new web host could pay dividends.