SERP Obsession and the Google Sandbox
Don’t get me wrong – I love Search Engine Ranking Positions (SERPS). I love seeing a client get to page 1 for their goal term in Google and they love me for helping them. What’s not to love about this? Well, for one, making bad decisions about your site. You also need to understand why sometimes your site will experience fluctuations in ranking, just like the stock market. Here’s a few factors to consider before becoming SERP obsessed and and reacting to fluctuations.
Depending on where your IP address is, search engines are going to try to serve up as localized results as possible. That’s why if I am in Vermont and searching on Californian Real Estate, I am going to get differently weighted results than someone in California searching. If I am in California searching on California Real Estate, then I am more likely to see local companies show up on page 1 or 2 than big national ones.
This always makes my life tricky when reporting on SERPs since depending on your previous searches the search engines will provide you with results based on previous sites you visited. If I am searching on a term to view the competition, when I check a site’s ranking it might have inflated SERP. I prefer live checking rankings instead of using tools but it’s just as well to use a few different methods to balance this out. Be cautious however, which ranking tools you use, since not all are of good quality. Some of the better tools out there that I use are Market Samurai and SEOMoz Rank Tracker. Another point to note, is that search engines have multiple data centers to deal with the vast amounts of information and can even provide different SERPs fromthe week to the weekend.
Google for instance is known to make up to 400 algorithm changes per year, so at least having some basic knowledge of the major changes will inform a discussion about a site’s ranking. As mentioned above, an awareness of increased localization can help shape a keyword strategy. Just out of SMX West this week, Google announced changes (Farmer/Panda update!) to the way it views ‘low quality content’, so with this in mind, you should look at pages on your site that are providing very little value or have duplicated content from somewhere else on the web. This is not new, but understanding that it is a bigger factor can help force a decision. This recent update is rumored to be targeting content farms with low quality content.
Re-Launch Rank Tank
If you have ever re-launched a site perhaps with a new domain name especially, you might have seen a dramatic drop in your rankings for important terms. This is what is colloquially known as the Google Sandbox. When a site re-launches, the search engines have to re-index all the pages and compare that to what it has on it’s servers and adjust. In this case, it’s imperative that the spiders can access every page on the site as easily as possible. This puts a strong emphasis on good site architecture (I recommend as flat a possible) and accessibility. The more content you put behind a wall or a form, the less likely it is the spider will crawl the page.
Another crucial factor to this is making sure that any changes to your site’s permalinks are 301-redirects from the old URL structures. 301 is a http status code and this will tell the engines that a permanent re-direct has been put in place. More on 301 re-directs next month!.