I Thought Florida was a State?

This week on SEO Chat, we’ll be taking a close look at the “Florida Update.” In this second article, Justin delves into the why of why Florida happened, as well as looking at some of the new changes, from a compare/contrast stand point. “Something has happened to Google!  The ambiguously nicknamed ‘Update Florida’ has been realized. Is the latest step in the Google Dance good or evil? How does it affect you and me? How do we learn to work with the new filter?”

Introduction

This article is about Florida. No, you should not expect to be packing the family into the car for a road trip after reading this. You will hear no mention of beaches, alligators, or paying a lot of money to see men dressed up in Mickey Mouse costumes. This Florida became known to the world on November 16th, 2003 as a new filter applied to search results in Google. For some, this new filter brought promise of a much easier and more productive quest for information. It heralded a new age of searching, one where no innocent searcher would find themselves a victim of some unscrupulous web spammer. We would be able to find what we want, when we want it.

However, as positive as this all sounds, Florida has become synonymous with “the end of the world” for many small business owners. As a result, Google, the world’s favorite (and most popular) search engine, is now shrouded with rumors and conspiracy. Is the suspicion and disappointment warranted? Has the power corrupted the minds behind the giant?

Let us examine cause that effected this latest update, the filter itself (what’s known about it anyhow), the supposedly unexpected side-effects, the ensuing suspicions, and perhaps most importantly, how we can learn to work with, not around this filter.

With reported 100 million-plus searches per day, Google has become the main source of referrers (and in turn revenue) for an untold number of businesses. Very unfortunately – but expectedly – many scruple-lacking persons have taken up the profession of web spamming, finding ways to abuse Google, generating undeserved high SERP listings for their sites. They employ many devious methods, which you could information on without great difficulty. But of course, the researchers and developers at Google can just as easily locate this information, and thus take steps to counteract them. After all, nobody wants to be abused, regardless of what the Eurhythmics would have us believe!

I would like to explain a few “tricks” that have been used to exaggerate page-rank and search term relevancy, or generally boost the number of visitors to a given website. Just so you know in advance, Google hates these sneaky tricks, and as you’ll learn, using them at this point will no longer help you. The reason I’m pointing them out is to help you identify reasons why your site could perhaps be penalized by Google. Here we go:

Hidden text/links

Have you ever found a page listed in your Google results, but it really has nothing to do with what you’re looking for? And not only that, but the page seems a whole lot bigger than the content that’s presented, it looks like a large amount a blank space has accidentally been dropped onto the page! Well, this is no accident, and if you were to highlight it, you would see hidden text with the same or a very similar color to the background. Usually a bunch of gibberish, with the purpose of professing the page to be something it’s not.

Cloaking/Redirecting

Those frames that are only one pixel high, or an unexpected page-redirect, designed to take the user to somewhere that they just don’t want to be.

Automated Submission

I’m not quite sure how many thousands of applications and websites exist to automatically submit your site to ‘X’ number of search engines, but not even one of them will be of benefit to you. All they signify for the folks at Google is additional unwanted bandwidth and processing cycles to handle the automated queries. Google provides a simple tool to submit your site once, and only once, and they would really prefer that you use it.

Loaded Irrelevant Words

It is not the most difficult thing to obtain a list of popular search terms. I just wonder to whom first came the revolutionary idea of borrowing from that list. And I don’t blame Google for fighting this one, after all, who wants their 12 year old daughter stumbling onto an Adult website when innocently searching for Britney Spears?

Mirrored Sites

It seems that some have confused the real world concept of franchising to the virtual world of the web. The belief that having multiple sites with the same content, or perhaps just multiple domain names, for the purpose to attract more people, is frivolous. The result is redundant information. That just slows the world down. That’s just a bad idea.

Doorway Pages

I remember reading about this concept, and just feeling disappointment. Who wants to navigate to a page with one paragraph of purposefully pointed information, and then realize there is still further to go yet to get to the “real” site, the information that might be what you’re really looking for?! Not to mention that this grates on the very fiber of my being as a webmaster. I don’t want to mislead visitors. I don’t want to make them think they’ve done enough just searching for my site, and I’d like to reward them immediately. And naturally, I don’t want the hassle of building meaningless, extra, cookie-cutter pages.

Link Schemes

It is well known that the basic determinant in obtaining a greater page rank is having more sites linking to your own. Well then, why not just visit the guest books on a hundred different personal sites, and leave a note with the URL of your domain? Or perhaps join a link farm, a pointless site, containing only links to other sites? Ingenious, no? No, the only way to describe it is lazy.

Ok, so we’ve discussed a number of popular and dishonest search ranking schemes. These are some of the main driving forces behind the Florida update. The research, planning, and work has all been accomplished to all but eliminate the effectiveness of spammers.

The filter accomplished what it set out to do, but it seems it went above and beyond duty on this one. Read on to see how you may have been listed as a ‘blackhat’ unexpectedly by Google, as thousands have.

Side-Effects

The search engine forums are bustling with complaints of non-spammers who are very opposed to this latest update. For example, I read a post by a San Jose DJ. His site is entirely dedicated to the DJ services he provides, no pretense whatsoever. In fact, his domain name is sanjosedj.com, you can’t be much more direct than that!. Anyone getting hitched in San Jose should have no trouble finding a DJ you would think. And that’s exactly how it was. No longer.

Apparently, his site was just too good to be true. It is what has been termed “over-optimized”. Now it is a very very small possibility that this site is employing some advanced method of spamming, but if you visit it, you may decide otherwise. This site – along with countless other small business sites – is directed to one purpose alone, and is very optimized to be located for that specific purpose.

The precise workings of the filter are not yet known, and probably never will. At this point, it appears that only certain keywords trip the filter. If your page is saturated with one of those keywords, then you can watch your ranking plummet!

Suspicions

Naturally, people are very spiteful and suspicious of this update. Many believe it is a simple push for adwords. This will force small businesses to bid on rankings for these keywords just to stay alive. Many now doubt the long-acclaimed chivalry of our champion search engine.

This seems to not be the case however. This is just Google’s way of policing the web, ensuring honesty, adherence to rules, and relevant searches. So, this begs the question: how can we live with such stringent policies? How can you and I still obtain high ranking in Google?

In all honesty, the only thing I can recommend is exactly that: honesty. Google wants you to be sincere about what your site is and what it offers. And they have been very generous by providing the guidelines of what they’re looking to find on a site to determine it’s relevance to search terms. They are now going a little further than just hoping that we’ll adhere to those guidelines, they’re making sure of it.

You can find the basic guidelines at http://www.google.com/webmasters/guidelines.html. These will help you get started. I will soon draft another article on how to obtain a better page rank.

There is some speculation that too many images with their ALT properties defined can cast your site into the over-optimized pond, inadvertently making you a black hat. So if you think you’re following all the guidelines, an haven’t tried anything tricky to boost your rankings, try cutting down on the ALT properties. 

I for one, am happy about this new filter. I look forward to finding the right information faster, and if you play by the rules that information just may be on your site.

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