SES Report: Day 4

Two sessions again today. The first was “Meet the Crawlers”, and the second was “Retaining Traffic After Moving or Redesign”. The Meet the Crawlers sessions was entertaining as always. One of the notable things was the absence of Matt Cutts. Instead, Google had the session covered with Shiva Shivakumar, who did a credible job.

Shiva’s mantra(s) were 2: (1) Distinguish clearly between Inclusion issues and Ranking issues, and: (2) Use Google Webmaster Tools (fka Sitemaps) to solve world peace. OK, so that’s a slight exaggeration. Nonetheless, Shiva’s responses often focused on the use of the Webmaster Tools product to help webmasters answer many different types of questions.

Also in attendance were Rajat Mukherjee from Yahoo, Ramez Nam from MSN, and Kashal Kurapati from Ask. In addition, featured in the audience was Greg Hullander who heads up the anti-spam team at MSN, and is also known on the message boards as MSNDude. The discussion was interesting as always.

Not surprisingly, the conversation seemed to focus on the players in total search volume rank order. I.e. most questions were asked of Google, the second most of Yahoo, and so forth. One could say that not much was asked of Ask, which is too bad, because it’s a really good search engine.

One of the more notable things I heard was that a 0 second meta refresh is treated the same as a 301 redirect by the search engines. This was new to me, and should be very valuable to web sites that are not able to setup 301 redirects. Click on the following link to read more about 301 redirects, and why this is so important.

Another point of note: If you have spammy pages that you decide to eliminate as part of cleaning up your act, do not 301 redirect these pages to other pages on your site. If there are any penalties associated with those spammy pages, those penalties will get passed on along with the redirect.

Another interesting point from Shiva. If the anchor text of all the links to your site is identical, this is NOT penalized by Google. This is interesting because one of Google’s patent filings identifies the notion of an unnatural distribution of anchor text phrases as something that would be a signal of a spam site (because if everyone gave you links without your involvement, there is no way that the anchor text would always be the same).

MSNDude’s presence was interesting. I first saw him at the Google Dance party in the Meet the Engineers room on the 2nd floor of the Googleplex. Greg and Matt got into an intense conversation for over an hour, while a fascinated watched. They talked about a bunch of algorithm specifics, while keeping everything at a high level (no major trade secrets divulged)

I chatted with MSNDude this morning about MSN’s use of neural nets to derive their search engine results. Google rejected this because there is no way to debug a neural net. In addition, Bill Gates was not found of the idea of using neural nets to build the MSN search engine. However, one thing I find interesting about this idea is that it guarantees that MSN will not be a “me too” search engine.

The Retaining Traffic After Moving or Redesign was packed with people who are in the process of moving and/or redesigning their sites. In a poll, about 70% of the people in the session were facing this issue. One thing I need to advise out of the box is that you do not do this unless it’s absolutely necessary.

My experience has been that there is a definite cost in this process. In situations where you are re mapping your whole site, or large portions, this cost is made greater when you have links to pages other than the home page. 301 redirects on a page to page basis (i.e. every page that is moves gets a 301 redirect from the old version of the page to the location of the new version of the page) make this less of a disaster, but they are not a cure all.

I went through a massive site wide move less than a year ago, and I found that Google adapted quite quickly to the new page locations because of the 301 redirects, but Yahoo took more than 9 months to fully recover. It appeared that Yahoo was slow to associate the links that went to deep pages on the site (i.e. not to the home page) were not getting credited to the new page location for a long time. It was painful.

So not the show has ended, and its time to go home. 7:05 am flight, and because of the terrorist threats, I am supposed to get to the airport 2 hours early. Ugh. Well at least I am going home.

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