Here are some of the the answers Ol MC and the rest of the Google gang gave on some common questions during the webmaster chat session today. I went through the top 80 or so of the 350 questions and have listed those that seemed interesting;
Q. "Since Google is against using ranking software (ie:WebCeO) to monitor SERP rankings, is there any plans on Google creating an approved, in-house rank check application that webmasters can use?"
Matt Cutts; It's something that we've talked about. My concern is that sometimes people get too worried with paying attention to their "trophy phrase" and want to rank for that even if that's not the best phrase for them, or concentrating on one phrase to the exclusion of all the other stuff they rank for isn't the best idea. I think paying attention to server logs or analytics data gets you a really nice array of keywords that are practical to work on. But this is feedback that we've heard, and personally I think it would be nice if we offered this for some reasonable size of keywords.
Q. "Of late, I have been experiencing sudden drop in rankings for my sites. One day it would be on #3 and the other day it would go back to #19 or #26. Any specific reason behind this.."
Kaspar aka Guglarz; Most likely, you have been accessing different Data Centers checking your rankings. As Google DC's are being updated continiously but not all simultaniously, slight variations in the SERP's are possible. If you still believe there was an issue with your sites rankings, I would suggest to drop the question, including the domain on the Google Webmaster Help Group: groups.google.com/group/Google_Webmaster_Help/
There is plenty of savvy webmasters eager to help, along with Google guides monitoring the community and joining the discussions occasionally :-)
Q. "Does Google plan to let us see rankings/positions of keywords in the webmaster tool?"
Susan Moskwa; We already do, for a limited number of keywords, in the "Top search queries" section of Webmaster Tools. While we generally don't comment on future features or plans, expanding this functionality is certainly an idea that's been suggested to us.
Matt Cutts; What Susan said, plus I personally think this would be cool to do.
Q. "Many believe that to rank well, you simply need "quality" backlinks. But how important is having your keywords in the , and throughout your site? Is keyword density of any importance to show what the page is about? What % is suggested?"
Wysz ;Links are just one factor involved in Google's ranking of pages. We look at both on-page and off-page content, so what you have on your page can be an essential part of ranking. However, there is no recommended "keyword density." Your content should be high quality and written for users. If you try writing for search engines, the language can become very unnatural, which may end up hurting you more than it helps.
Q. "For SEO, I'd like to improve my rankings by removing technical obstacles (starting with dynamic URL parameters), what are the most important site fixes to make and how can I document before and after success metrics using the Google Webmaster Tool?"
JohnMu ; To check the crawlability of your site, I would recommend crawling your site with a crawler like Xenu's Link Sleuth (freeware, for Windows). Doing that gives you a rough look at how search engines view your site and can point you towards areas where crawlers get stuck in a loop or start crawling duplicates based on the URL parameters.
Q. "Is the bounce rate and speed taken into account when ranking a page? i.e. if you see a searcher click on a result then return very quickly and choose another result, is the first page ranked lower?"
JohnMu; Hi chrisff, assuming that users will be jumping out of a site like that, there's a high probability that they won't be willing to recommend it to others (or come back themselves). So yes, indirectly at least, if a site is made in a way that users run away right away, then chances are that we might not be recommending it as much as other sites that users like (and recommend to others).
Q. "Can my site be penalized if somebody else uses ranking check software on it?"
Kaspar aka Guglarz; No! Don't worry abut that :-)
Q. "Can you tell me how Google decides whether to include video on the first page of the SERPS or not? Views? Links? Age? Relevance? What's the most important?"
Matt Cutts; I think relevance is always the top-level answer, because we want the best information (be it search results, videos, or even ads) to come up highly. And relevance for each property will vary--for ads it might be clickthrough, and for video it might be different signals.
Q. "Matt says, Google takes 200 signals for ranking a query and PR is one among those. If that is the case, why is it still showed prominently on toolbar. Any possibility of seeing PR info dropped from Google toolbar?"
JohnMu; Hi ROW, PageRank is just one signal that we use, but it's also one of the easiest metrics to show to users and an easy one to understand where the metrics come from. So I think it's something that (it) still provides value to users and still makes sense to show to them in the Google Toolbar.
Q. "Recently, you removed this suggestion: "Submit your site to relevant directories such as the Open Directory Project and Yahoo!" from your guidelines. Is there any chance that you will be discounting these kinds of links for ranking value in future?"
Matt Cutts;Hey Marjy (testing out this 'post a response' thingie). There's always the chance that we'll discount directory links in the future. What we were seeing was quite a few novice people would see the "directory" recommendation and go out and just try to submit to a ton of directories, even if some of the directories were lower-quality or even fly-by-night directories that weren't great for users. Right now we haven't changed how we're weighting directory links--we've only removed the directory suggestion from the webmaster guidelines.
Q. "Given, the incoming links are intact and there is no link buying/selling. Can there be any other reason for a drop in Page Rank?"
JohnMu; Assuming the number of links stays the same, it's always possible that some links change with regards to the way they pass PageRank.
Q. "Do inbound links from other sites owned by the same company help or hurt rank?"
Matt Cutts; I find that inbound links from the same company tend to break down into two camps. You'll find mom/pops that have a very few sites in one camp, and that can make sense if those sites are linked; in the other camp, I've see SEOs have 1000 or 2000 different domains and cross-link them. I definitely would not recommend that.
I think a lot of the litmus test in my mind is whether it makes sense to a regular person for those domains to be interlinked. If you look at a product like Coke, people aren't surprised to see that they have coca-cola.co.nz and several other domains. If you go to coke.com, it's perfectly reasonable to ask users which country they're coming from, and then send them to one of a bunch of domains. But if a regular user lands on example.com and finds 20 or 30 cross-links at the bottom of the page and they look like off-topic or cookie-cutter or spammy domains, that's going to look bad to almost anyone
Q. "Until recentley (the last six months or so) a high ranking was achievable by submitting articles to article directories (providing they were 40%-60% unique), it no longer seems to be the case. Have links from article sites been de-valued at all?"
Matt Cutts; In my experience, not every article directory site is high-quality. Sometimes you see a ton of articles copied all over the place, and it's hard to even find original content on the site. The user experience for a lot of those article directory sites can be pretty bad too. So you'd see users landing on those sorts of pages have a bad experience.
If you're thinking of boosting your reputation and getting to be well-known, I might not start as the very first thing with an article directory. Sometimes it's nice to get to be known a little better before jumping in and submitting a ton of articles as the first thing.
Q. "Will Webmaster Tools ever give us an option to "disassociate" from sites that link to us? This feature exists in Yahoo's Site Explorer, but not Webmaster Tools."
Matt Cutts; So far because we work really hard to make it so that one site can't hurt another site, we haven't really offered this. It's something that people have suggested and we've thought about though. Part of the challenge would be if a site owner wanted to disassociate a bunch of links from their site. If you have a ton of links pointing to your site, scanning all of them would get really tiring. So that's a challenge, and since we haven't seen a need for it yet, that's why we haven't offered it yet.
Q. "Are .gov and .edu back links still considered more "link juice" than the common back link?"
Matt Cutts; This is a common misconception--you don't get any PageRank boost from having an .edu link or .gov link automatically. Hah John, I beat you to it!
Q. "What weight is given to the links from social networking sites and blogs?"
Nathan J; I would treat social sites and blogs the same as any other site.
Q. "Will too much of "rel=nofollow" or totally "nofollow" to all outgoing links by the author of a blog be stamped as over optimization and penalized? Is there any penalty for over optimization sort of stuff?"
JohnMu; I wouldn't worry about this, Raj. I would try to work on making the site as natural as possible.
Q. "For inbound links to a site, can Webmaster Tools display the anchor text in the link?"
Maile Ohye; Hi there, got it, this is a feature request we've heard before. I'll add "Unnamed" from our Webmaster Chat to the request (seriously).
Keep-in-mind that we show anchor text in Webmaster Tools, it's just not associated with each URL. We want to develop features in Webmaster Tools that really help you to build a better site and improve the web -- I'm not sure if we've determined anchor text to backlinks to be a high priority. Nonetheless, we've noted your request.
Q. "What weight does the age of a site and the amount of time a domain is registered for have on it's search placement?"
Matt Cutts; In the majority of cases, it actually doesn't matter--we want to return the best information, not just the oldest information. Especially if you're a mom/pop site, we try to find ways to rank your site even if your site is newer or doesn't have many links. I think it is fair for Google to use that as a signal in some circumstances, and I try never to rule a signal out completely, but I wouldn't obsess about it.
Q. "Duplicate content - www. and non www. - I understand the best practice is to have a perm redirect for the non www to the www. some appear to get away with it and rank high, others dont - Duplicate content agn - domainname.co.nz and domainname.com ?"
JohnMu; Hi Peter! Doing a redirect or not doing one does not significantly impact your site's crawling, indexing or ranking in Google. I'd still recommend doing that though - otherwise it can confuse users to see different domain names for the same content. If you have a local (.com.nz) and a global (.com) site, then I would recommend using separate content for them (since there are going to be different users) -- but I wouldn't worry too much about it if you have the same content at the moment.
Q. "Suppose my website supports English and French. Should the English version of a particular page and the French version have different URLs? Any other best practices for multi-lingual site architecture?"
Matt Cutts; If you can afford it, I would do domain.com and domain.fr. If that's not possible, I would consider doing en.domain.com and fr.domain.com. If that's not possible, then domain.com/en and domain.com/fr can work. In webmaster tools, you can geographically target a site (and I believe parts of a site such as fr.domain.com), which will help as well.
Q. "Any chance of Google favouring sites with valid markup anytime soon? On the principle that if the webmaster has taken the trouble to write valid markup, it's less likely to be a spammy site?"
JohnMu; Since less than 5% of the pages out there actually validate according to study done by Opera, it wouldn't make much sense for us to give the other 95% of the pages any trouble. You can find the study at http://dev.opera.com/articles/view/mama-markup-validation-report/
Q. "Does 301 Redirect moves the Google Page Ranking to the new location? If so how long does it take for this to take effect?"
Wysz; Where appropriate, ranking signals will be transferred across 301 redirects (if the same page has moved from one URL to another). This may take some time, so you should probably leave the redirect in place as long as you have control over the URL. That way any new links will make our crawler follow the 301.
Q. "In addition to a XML sitemap, does it make any sense to have also an HTML sitemap on the same website? Does HTML sitemap helps improve the rating?"
JohnMu; A HTML sitemap file can help search engines, especially those that don't use XML Sitemap files. Also, the 404 widget in Webmaster Tools (which you can place on your 404 pages) will use "/sitemap.htm" and similar files to help users to find the content they're looking for. So yes, I would recommend making HTML sitemap files, however I'd focus on the user and not the search engines.
Q. "Does Googlebot strip URL fragments? In other words, is a link to /path/#fragment the same as a link to /path/ ?"
JohnMu; Yes, we remove URL fragments since they are processed on the client side and not relevant when fetching URLs from your server.
Q. "Does inconsistent capitalization of URLs cause duplicate content issues and dilution of page rank? For example www.site.com/abc vs www.site.com/Abc. On Windows hosts, these are the same page, but are different pages on Unix hosts."
JohnMu; Hi John, based on the existing standards, URLs are case-sensitive, so yes, these would be seen as separate URLs. Since the content on the URLs is the same, we'll generally recognize that and only keep one of them. However, we'd recommend that you try to keep all links going to one version of the URL. Keep in mind that this also applies to robots.txt files.
Q. "Does the geotargeting feature in Webmaster tools hold as much weight as having a country-specific TLD?"
Kaspar aka Guglarz; Google uses a bunch of signals like location of the server or the TLD in order to determine which users might be interested in the sites content. Geotargeting is a way for webmasters who use non country specific TLD's like .net/ to tell Google which your target group was, if the site is specifically targeted to users from a particular area. Think of the site of a small, local hardware store or a vet for example. Potentially, their main target users would be people living in the nearby area. Geotargeting is not to be used for language targeting though.
Q. "Do you have any plan on integrating GoogleMapsLocalBusinessCenter with webmaster tool? There is alot of overlap and being able to verify ownership of an physical address via a website might be helpful/possible."
JohnMu; That's definitely something that we're considering. However, it's also important for us that these areas are available separately so that people who are looking to get a listing in the Local Business Center but who don't have a website will still be able to access it easily.
Q. "Geotargeting + Dupe Content Question: Aaron D'Souza of the Search Quality team was reported as stating that publishing the same content on two separate geotargeted paths under your domain will not trigger the dupe content filters. Is this correct?"
JohnMu; Hey Richard! In general, in a case like that, we'd try to pick the best page based on various factors, including geotargeting and language choices. If that page is one which is also available for other geotargeting/language choices, we will generally try to pick the version that our algorithms feel makes the most sense.
and there ya have it
feel free to talk among yerselves ;0)