Category Archives: Google

5 Essential Magento extensions for UK shopping sites.

I’ve been spreading my wings lately and offering low cost e-commerce solutions using Magento Community as the base for websites. Magento Community is a fine piece of software with a mind-boggling array of features and options but it does lack certain abilities that make it a truly great product. Thankfully due to the open-source nature of Magento there are plenty of extensions available to make Magento do what you want it to do.

Yoast MetaRobots
This exension by the respected Yoast (known for his excellent WordPress SEO extension) allows you to control the Meta Robots tags quickly and easily on a variety of pages on your Magento site to help direct the flow of “link juice” around the site and prevent pages from being indexed. Yoast MetaRobots allows you to set pages such as Send to a Friend, Customer Account pages, Tags and Checkout as “noindex, follow” from a simple panel in the System > Configuration  > Web section of Magento’s administration area.

Now that Google (and Bing to a lesser extent) are really pushing Rich Snippets as an important part of your site’s content it is imperative that your Magento site implements semantic markup for Rich Snippets for Google and Bing. The MSemantic extension takes away all the pain of marking up your site with a simple to install extension. Once installed your products and reviews contain the correct markup for Rich Snippets integration which will help with your rankings and visibility in Google, Google Shopping and of course Bing.

Google Content API for Shopping
The only way to get your products listed on Google Shopping if you use Magento. Simply install the extension, add your Account ID, Google Account Email Address and Password and then upload your selected products to Google. You can configure the extension to automatically update the product listing on Google if you change the product in any way and it’s easy to see what products you have listed and what needs adding. The extension also supports custom attributes and the full range of Google Shopping taxonomies.

Meanbee Royal Mail Domestic and International Shipping
This simple to use extension adds the current Royal Mail shipping costs to your Magento store and works out the correct postage cost based on location and weight. My 2 qualms with this extension are you can’t add the cost of your packaging materials to the shipping rates so you would have to add a bit extra on to each product’s cost or define a shopping cart rule to get a more accurate cost and the extension does not take the packet’s dimensions in to account as it’s based purely on weight. Otherwise this extension is fantastic and a really simple way to set up Shipping Table Rates in Magento for UK users.

Clever CMS
Magento’s Content Management System is a bit… well, basic to polite, but Magento is primarily an e-commerce solution not a fully featured CMS. Clever CMS extends the basic Magento CMS with some great additions that I feel are essential to any good CMS. Clever CMS allows you to assign permissions to your pages so you can decide who sees your pages (logged in customers, not logged in customers, etc.) and more importantly creates a tree structure for your pages similar to Magento’s category tree structure so you can create sub pages and rearrange your menus at will and each store view can have it’s own “tree”. You can define your own URLs and if you change them at a later date then Clever CMS will set up a 301 redirect from the old URL to the new one.

Is Google removing free directories from it’s index?

This is my first post in a long time on my often neglected blog and I thought I should come back by answering a question a lot of people have been asking on the SEO forums and sites recently, “is Google removing free directories from it’s index?” Barry Schwartz highlighted the issue over on Search Engine Round Table and claimed that over 50% of the directory sites he checked had been de-indexed. Search News Central followed that up with a test of over 400 directories and found that just over 1% had been de-indexed. I used to use a lot of free directory submissions when I was starting out and built up quite a list of directories that I knew were good for a link, would show up on Google and were regularly crawled. I checked this list of just under 200 directories to see if any had been deindexed and the results were… underwhelming. Out of 191 sites 2 were no longer online so had been de-indexed, 4 were still active but had been de-indexed due to server errors or just plain crap coding or set up and 1 had only the home page indexed. The rest were fine. So in short the answer to the question above is… no.

It may be that after the Penguin update that these free directories are no longer passing as much or any link juice as before, it may be that these sites are fine. As I said earlier this list is a hand-crafted list of free directories that have been proven to work pre-Penguin, post-Panda and long before that. So is Google removing quality free directories? No, but it might be removing the crap ones and about time too.

Bye bye Yahoo! UK

Well it’s finally happened, Yahoo UK search is no more. Yahoo UK (and European properties) are now powered by Bing. Just over 2 years after Microsoft bought Yahoo for (apparently $0!) and about a year after the US and Canadian Yahoo portals, the once great search giant has finally abandoned the fight against the mighty Google and going the same way as Altavista, Inktomi and AllTheWeb (all bought by Yahoo! ironically in an attempt to use their search engine know how to bolster Yahoo’s search algorithms). Officially Bing will power Yahoo! search for 10 years but the deal also gives Bing access to Yahoo’s search technology and the right to integrate it within Bing search. Yahoo is rumoured to have laid off as much as 20% of it’s workforce so I can see no going back from this. I predict Yahoo! will be wholly owned by Bing in the next few years. Yahoo’s much loved site explorer tool will close at the end of the year and Bing are working on a replacement within the Bing Webmaster Toolbox. With Google properties now accounting for a massive 92% share of the UK market and Yahoo and Bing combined on 5.84% the future seems bleak for any competing search engines against the behemoth that is Google.

The browser wars look to be going the same way as well with Google’s Chrome browser now the second most used browser in the UK with a 22.1% market share and Firefox at 22%. Internet Explorer dropped a massive 15% to 41% in July.

So where did Yahoo go wrong and why hasn’t Bing made any in roads against Google in the UK? Personally I think the answer lies in Google’s focus on search as it’s main product. Yahoo’s CEO Carol Bartz (the head honcho, the big cheese) said in a 2009 interview:

“The priority was to get the fog away from the company. Yahoo got pegged as a search company and we’re not a search company. Search is only one aspect of what our customers do.”

Yet Yahoo! Search was where the majority of their visitors came from and losing focus on their main source of traffic (and therefore money) shows how little respect and knowledge the company’s top brass had of their own business. If you can’t draw visitors to your “portal” with the promise that they’ll find what they want then you won’t have any visitors to sign up for Yahoo mail or a small business listing or Yahoo shopping listings (the latter 2 are powered by a third party). Basically Yahoo just aggregates stuff that you can find quicker and easier in other places (e.g: Google). When was the last time you saw an advert for Yahoo in the uk? Yep it was probably this truly forgettable and overly long ad from 2009:

Doesn’t exactly get the pulse racing does it?

How about this one:

Better isn’t it? That advert was for the launch of Bing (formerly MSN Live Search) and does everything the Yahoo ad doesn’t, it tells you how to solve a problem.

Finally a Google advert from 2010 showcasing (almost) everything Google can do in one simple, effective advert:

Simple and effective, just like Google really.

Links, links and more links…

Recently I’ve been overly obsessed with getting ultra-focused, one-way, followed links to my client’s sites. And after a while of course it starts to get harder and harder to find these links. Then I noticed that some link exchanges I’d set up on a test site were really starting to bear fruit. The sites with the links back to my test site were barely related (think “shopping” rather than “wine”) and the test site was climbing the rankings for all the specified anchor texts I’d set up in the link exchange. Now this is early days and the effect may wear off as quickly as it began but I’ll keep you posted.

I also noticed that reciprocal links were starting to bear fruit as well. Higher rankings every time a link was added to the linking domains report in Google Webmaster Tools across the board for all keywords. Now these links are all from related sites (travel oriented) but the difference is quite marked. For years we’ve been told that link exchanges are dead or harmful to your site’s rankings but since the Panda update I’ve noticed that reciprocal links definitely help… at the moment.

So what about those ultra-targetted, one way, followed links… they’ve not really had an impact on rankings. Strangely I’ve had more results from adding a few nofollowed links from related blog posts with no real targetted anchor text. The site-wide boost these links have given has helped. Maybe my link model was too unnatural as it contained no nofollowed links at all and now that it does Google thinks more highly of the site, maybe it is just the pure number of links that matter. I’ll keep you updated with what’s working!

Google Panda Update Hits The UK

It’s been very quiet on this blog for far too long so it’s time to rectify that. I can’t promise regular updates but I’ll try and post something at least monthly! The big news of the last month or so is the latest Google algorithm update nicknamed “Panda” officially by Google after an engineer on their team or “Farmer” as the algorithm attempts to weed out so-called “content farms” that scrape content from the web and wrap it in adsense adverts.

There have been hundreds of posts on various SEO forums and news sites describing the “pandapocalypse” as sites in the US were hit by Panda and tumbled down the Google rankings and lost traffic and income as a result. On Monday 11th April the update was rolled out to Google’s other English properties such as Google UK and UK-based SEOs were braced for a similar drop. I’m pleased to say that absolutely none of the sites I perform search engine optimization on have been affected by Panda in an adverse way and have even benefitted from some of the lower quality sites have dropped. So forgive me for blowing my own trumpet but it speaks volumes about the quality of content that our clients have produced and the work I have done on my clients’ sites to help them up the rankings.

Ch-ch-changes at Google

Today marks an important event for Google as they switch their results to the new HTML standard, HTML 5. HTML 5 allows more interactivity whislt using less additional languages like JavaScript, ActiveX plugins and so on. This will allow Google to embed videos and other interactive features straight into the results set without the need to worry about if a user has JavaScript turned on or has the right plugins installed to view a video. From tomorrow (or possibly sometime later today in the UK), Google’s search results pages will be AJAX powered meaning that as you switch pages of Google results they will load almost instantly, like the new Google Image search results. Google tested AJAX results in February this year and it seems this will be included in this latest update. It is anticipated that the results will also show 30 results per page rather than the standard 10 blue links.

Google showcased some HTML 5 capability yesterday with it’s floating balls logo that was controlled by your mouse (but wasn’t fully HTML 5 driven, it used some JavaScript).

Today’s logo is even funkier in my opinion, a plain grey Google that colours in as you type!

Let the search engines do the work

Things have come a long way since the late 90’s when I first started learning SEO. Back then you’d submit to Altavista or Lycos or Inktomi and wait and hope that the search engines would spider you.

Nowadays it’s so much easier. The major players, Google and Bing/Yahoo, have their own dedicated “Webmaster Toolboxes” where you simply verify your site, submit an XML sitemap and watch as they crawl your site and give highly detailed reports on it’s progress. They’ll even help you create the sitemap! These toolboxes will then tell you how many pages the search engine has indexed, how often your site is visited, your top keywords, the number of links to your site, broken links, malware infected pages and much more, free of charge! Google even tells you how fast your site loads and how to improve.

Let’s look at each one in a little more detail:

Google Webmaster Tools

The daddy of the search engine world and probably the most useful of the lot. Google Webmaster Tools shows you your site’s top queries, where the site ranks over time for each query and a click-through rate for each position and keyword. It shows any crawl errors, the most used keywords on your site, the number of links to your site and each page that has external links, the submission status of your sitemap, allows you to quickly and easily point Google to your new domain if you are moving your site, internal links, and subscribers to your rss feeds. There’s also a section telling you how you can improve your site’s ranking, from HTML considerations (duplicate or short title and description tags), site speed performance, malware infections, broken links, robots.txt checks and adding content to your site’s sidewiki. YOu can even request removal of a plage from Google’s index here. You will need a Google account to access the tools.

Bing Webmaster Center

Bing’s Webmaster Center will become more important now that Bing owns Yahoo! and will soon be powering Yahoo! search, giving Bing a much larger share of the market. Of course you’ll need a Windows Live account to access the toolbox.

Once inside the toolbox you’ll see a range of reports on your site, from the date it was last crawled by Bing to Bing’s very own Domain Score. Bing ranks each page on your site out of 5, with 5 being the best. Now it’s not hard to get a 5 out of 5 rating for each page with a little bit of thought but the rating system is a handy way of showing you what pages you need to improve. Unfortunately it only shows you the top 5 pages on your site. You’ll also see the language of the page, it’s last crawled date and if it’s blocked by robots.txt or other factors. You’ll also see a count of the total number of indexed pages.

Like Google each site has a profile page where you fill in your sitemap address, manage verification settings and an optional email address where Bing can alert you to periodic news and updates, although I’ve yet to receive any mail from Bing and I’ve been using the toolbox for a long time!

Again like Google, you can view crawl issues, malware, broken links, etc., view backlinks and outbound links by domain and subdomain.

Where the Bing Webmaster Center fails to match Google is the Keywords area of the toolbox. Bing does not give you any reports on your top performing keywords at all and their keyword tool is shockingly bad. Basically you type in a keyword or phrase in to the tool and it returns a list of pages on your site that feature that word or phrase along with a domain rank score for each page. There is no data on click through rates, positions, the number of times your page appeared in the search results for that phrase, nothing useful in short.

Yahoo Site Explorer

The Yahoo! Site Explorer is probably on it’s way to the scrap heap now Bing are in charge yet Site Explorer can still provide some useful information in the meantime. You will need a Yahoo ID to access the full features of Site Explorer. Like the other two you can manage yor sitemap feed here, view the number of indexed pages and crawl errors. Site Explorer also shows you the number of domains that link to and from your site and like Google shows your top performing keywords although in far less detail than Google. Like Google you can request page deletions.

Where Yahoo! surpasses the others is in it’s reporting of backlinks. Yahoo seems to list every single link to your site and you can filter by domain, subdomain and page. Yahoo also lists every single page on your site that it has indexed.

What about Ask?

Ask is the only one of the big search engines that have yet to roll out a webmasters area but it does support xml sitemaps and allows you to ping the sitemap so they know of any changes. URL of your sitemap here.xml

So take the hard work out of the basics, submit your site to these webmaster toolboxes, wait whilst they gather some information on your site and follow their suggestions and your search engine traffic will start to increase. The toolboxes take away some of the guesswork of improving your rankings allowing you to concentrate on writing quality content and gaining links.

It’s Official, Google Is Using Site Speed To Rank Your Site

The Official Google Webmaster Blog announced on Friday that Google are using the loading time of your sites as a ranking factor. It’s been rumoured for some time, especially when Google announced Google Page Speed and integrated their findings into Google Webmaster Tools, but now we have confirmation from the big G itself. Google are playing down it’s impact saying:

Currently, fewer than 1% of search queries are affected by the site speed signal in our implementation and the signal for site speed only applies for visitors searching in English on at this point. We launched this change a few weeks back after rigorous testing. If you haven’t seen much change to your site rankings, then this site speed change possibly did not impact your site.

Even so 1% of sites on a competitive query that returns 750,000,000 results is still 750,000 results. I’m sure everyone would like to rank 750,000 places higher and a few simple optimization tricks can help.

5 simple tricks to speed up load times

1) Optimize your images for the web. Back when we were all on dial-up modems this practise was the norm but it has fallen by the wayside as we switched to big fat broadband connections. With the increase in mobile Internet use, optimised images are again in demand. Most image editing programs have a “save for web” feature that will walk you through the image optimisation process.

2) Reduce code bloat. Cut out some of the bells and whistles on your site if they don’t add to the user experience. Chances are they are just slowing your site down for no benefit. Compress javascript and CSS files where possible. Valid, accessible, html code loads far faster than bloated table-dependent code.

3) Use a fast, reliable hosting company. At Denial Design we have optimised our hosting environment to give the fastest response times we can to user requests. We’ve enabled on the fly compression of various file types to improve loading speeds. Most sites we host have seen a 10 – 15% decrease in load times due to the optimisation of the servers, and all for just £65 a year per site.

4) Avoid “hotlinking” to images. Not only does it earn you the wrath of the original host but it increases load times as extra DNS requests are needed to find the site you’ve linked the image from.

5) Avoid dead links. Make sure every image, css file and javascript file you link to is present and correct. Load times suffer as the browser twiddles it thumbs waiting for the server to find a file you’ve linked to that doesn’t actually exist. Use Xenu Link Sleuth to check your site for dead links.

April Fools from Google

Google has 2 April Fools Day jokes running today.
The first, visible on the Google home page, is a link to Google Animal Translate.

Making the world’s information universally accessible is a key goal for Google. Language is one of our biggest challenges so we have targeted our efforts on removing language barriers between the species. We are excited to introduce Translate for Animals, an Android application which we hope will allow us to better understand our animal friends. We’ve always been a pet-friendly company at Google, and we hope that Translate for Animals encourages greater interaction and understanding between animal and human.

The second, from the Official Google Blog is that Google has changed it’s name to Topeka.

Google UK showing site country in SERPS

As you can see from the screen grab on the right, Google UK is now showing what country some sites are hosted in alongside the URL. You can see “United States” next to the mashable entry on the screen grab. What does it mean? Frankly I have no idea… AS far as I can tell it’s not related to Caffeine as performing the same search on a Caffeine Powered (Caf Pow?) datacentre produces different results and no country codes.