Category Archives: Ask

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.

The meta keyword tag is dead.

Yahoo! has publically announced it no longer uses the Meta keyword attribute for ranking sites. Apparently they stopped using is a few months ago but today at the SMX East conference’s “Ask the Search Engines: Best Practices” seminar, Yahoo Search’s Senior Director, Cris Pierry, let slip that Yahoo no longer uses the keywords tag when ranking pages.

So is that it for the keyword tag? Is it now just a part of Internet history? Google has never used it, Bing does not support it and now Yahoo doesn’t. Of the major players that only leaves Ask and I can’t find any recent concrete evidence that says they use the tag either. The specifications for HTML 5 don’t include the keywords name although it has been proposed as an addition.

So should you ignore keywords from now on? Yes, unless you’re optimising for a custom search engine for your site or Intranet.

Search With KISS

This is probably one of the oddest search engine stories I’ve seen but rock band (and personal faves of mine) KISS have teamed up with Google and Ask to create Search With KISS!
Search the web using and receive results from Google &
Swag Bucks are periodically awarded as you search the web. Redeem your “Swag Bucks” for exclusive Kiss products and more in the Swag Store.

Only UK, Canadian and US residents can register at the moment.

Interestingly Search With Kiss seems to return a very limited number of results, for example a search for “kiss” returns just 33 results compared to 224,000,000 on Google. And of course they’re all about the band. The search engine is powered by InfoSpace, a meta search engine that collates the results from various engines, in this case Ask and Google.

The Return of Jeeves

Jeeves is to make a UK only return to this week according toThe Guardian and other sources. Three years after being put into retirement, PG Wodehouse’s famous butler character Jeeves is returning to help UK users with their searches and to help Ask take on the might of Google.

A national TV, press, radio and online campaign will kicks off this week to revive the butler after research showed that 83% of UK consumers still referred to as Ask Jeeves, a name it ditched over 3 years ago in a re-branding exercise. Jeeves has been made over by Saville Row tailors Gieves & Hawkes while the ad campaign has been masterminded by Hanft, Raboy and Partners. The campaign includes adverts tailored for popular shows such as Hell’s Kitchen which features Jeeves and asks “why do onions make you cry?”

Jeeves will also gain a Twitter and Facebook profiles showing pictures from his 3 year hiatus. The TV ads start tomorrow but Jeeves is online now and waiting for your questions, such as “Why am I back?.

Google trumps Yahoo! and Live for speed and relevancy

As an avid Formula 1 fan I’ve been closely following the fate of the old Honda F1 team after Honda announced on the 5th December that it was selling the team and pulling out of Formula 1 due to the economic downturn. At midnight last night ex-Honda team principal Ross Brawn announced he had completed a management buy-out of the old Honda team and was renaming the team “Brawn GP”. What does this all have to do with the search engines you ask? Well the new Brawn GP website was launched sometime in the early hours of this morning and a quick search on the major UK search engines (Google, Live, Ask and Yahoo!) for “brawn gp” revealed some interesting results.

Predictably Google has got it spot on and indexed and ranked the Brawn GP site within hours of it’s launch. It’s ranked third at the moment but expect that to change very soon. The index date says it was indexed around 8 hours ago from the time I’m writing this article. It’s rankings are probably helped by a link from the BBC Sport website’s story about the takeover.

Yahoo has some nice relevant results, mainly news stories about Ross Brawn and a wikipedia entry for him but no Brawn GP website. It’s not even indexed.

Ask similarly returns a glut of news results and F1 related sites but no official website.

Live / MSN fails miserably. There are some relevant news results at the top of he SERPS but the main results are atrocious. For some reason it thinks I typed Brown GP so returns sites for a Chartered Accountant (???!), a GUI Package, Pony Club classified ads and pages about Gordon Brown and the health service. Sigh. Until Microsoft work out that this kind of thing is preventing them from dominating search they’ll continue to stumble around blindly trying to invent the next big thing when all we want is relevancy and speed. Squirrelled away at the top of the page it does say “Results are included for brown gp. Show just the results for brawn gp.” and clicking on this returns some relevant results but again no official site. While Google and Yahoo! both suggest that I may have misspelled something they at least return results for what I’ve actually entered, not what it thinks I wanted. It’s like that damn Office paper-clip all over again…