PageRank Update: November 8-9, 2011

Last night, around 11:45pm PST, I started noticing that the PageRank had increased for most of my sites. Or it stayed the same. I haven’t seen the PageRank for any of my sites drop. That’s for sure.

Probably the best part about this PageRank update is that no one is really talking about it. I’m at PubCon in Las Vegas with some of the best SEOs around, and no one has even mentioned it. I’ve been wondering when the day would come where people would lose interest/fascination with PageRank. Are we there yet? Maybe.

Some Big Websites Suck at Non-WWW to WWW Redirects

Alright, folks. Today we’re going to talk about PageRank. Oh, I know. It’s dying and/or dead. Ok. Awesome. But it’s still a metric that we can use… at least a little. Like in this post, which happens to be about people not correctly redirecting their homepage URL from the non-www to www version.

Alright, folks. Today we’re going to talk about PageRank. Oh, I know. It’s dying and/or dead. Ok. Awesome. But it’s still a metric that we can use… at least a little. Like in this post, which happens to be about people not correctly redirecting their homepage URL from the non-www to www version.

I’m going to assume you know the advantages of redirecting the non-www version of your site to the www version of the site. Across all pages. Or maybe you prefer to go the other way – swim up stream like I do with this site’s URLs – and redirect the www version to the non-www version. It’s all about eliminating duplicate content and making sure every link is most effectively attributed to the ‘official’ URL for your product pages, category pages, etc… Blah blah blah.

Here are some sites that do this very efficiently and effectively (and their respective PageRank values):

So fresh and so clean clean: Awesome examples of non-www to www via 301 redirects
So fresh and so clean clean: Awesome examples of non-www to www via 301 redirects

It’s so nice to see this being done correctly. And these are some bigtime brands. Well done, big brand sites. Well, done.

In March 2010, Matt Cutts dropped some knowledge on us:

Note: in a follow on email, Matt confirmed that this is in fact the case. There is some loss of PR through a 301.

So really, we shouldn’t think of this non-www to www redirect method as something that is going to pass all of our linkjuice and PageRank through to the final URL. It simply doesn’t work that way. However, it still passes some PageRank AND it helps reduce duplicate content. And that’s good enough for me.

So…the awesome examples were just the beginning of this post. Now we’re going to see some websites that are losing a lot of link juice from doing it all wrong.

First, let’s take a look at sites that do not use any type of non-www to www redirect. And again, these are some big brand names right here:

These sites need to join the party: Go ahead and 301 those non-www's already!
These sites need to join the party: Go ahead and 301 those non-www's already!

Wow! Sprint has the PR8. That’s impressive. But what would it be if you 301’d the 4,280 links that are currently pointing to the non-www homepage URL? If you wanted to go buy 4,280 links, that would be pretty expensive. You could pass all that linkjuice to the www version of your site – FOR FREE! How about that? That’s 4% of your total links to the non-www version of your site! And you could at least get some of that linkjuice. [BTW I got the external link numbers from SEOmoz’s Open Site Explorer tool.] The point is: Returning a 200OK for your non-www and www homepage URL isn’t terrible, but it’s not up-to-date with fundamental SEO principles.

Now here are some sites that are doing the non-www to www redirect, but these sites all share the honor of having used the dreaded 302 temporary redirect. In general, the 302 redirect is the ‘Voldemort’ of SEO. You really don’t want to be caught mentioning it – ever. The 302 has its place, but it certainly is not needed in this conversation. Mainly, we don’t want to use a 302 for this because it does not pass any linkjuice. So here are some big sites that are using a 302 redirect from the non-www to the www version of their sites:

I won't tell anyone. Just please change that to a 301 redirect. Already even!
I won't tell anyone. Just please change that to a 301 redirect. Already even!

Really, Apple? Really, Costo? Really, Walgreens? I’m just going to assume that you all have awesome SEOs who know what they are doing. Obviously there is a perfectly good reason for your sites to be using the 302 redirect for non-www to www. It’s probably classified. I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt. Regardless, I still recommend that you update that redirect to a 301. It would make me happy. Because I’m an SEO nerd, and even more specifically – I want to see Apple at a PR10. I mean, maybe the linkjuice from another 114,524 links would help to get to PR10. I dunno. But it certainly wouldn’t hurt.

Let’s dive into some other sites that are really screwing the pooch. As you will see in the following screenshot, some websites prefer to use *double* redirects and, yes, even *triple* redirects to get from the non-www to the www version of the homepage URL:

Chain chain chain: Redirect chain of fools.
Chain chain chain: Redirect chain of fools.

To me, the double redirects and triple redirects look like a chain. Just imagine all the PageRank that is lost, siphoned off with each redirect. It’s terrible. Simply terrible. Verizon, I am a customer of yours. In general, I think you service is great. But it pains me to see a double 302 redirect on your homepage. Please fix that. Please. For the love… This is just depressing.

Finally, I found a website that is guilty of something that I can barely bring myself to discuss. From a usability standpoint, it makes my blood boil with the rage of 1,000 SuperBowl-week ice storms. This site does not load when you visit their non-www homepage URL:

The unforgivable sin of usability: homepage URL unreachable
The unforgivable sin of usability: homepage URL unreachable

Okay. Hahaha. Get your mind out of the gutter. BJ’s is a Fortune 500 company and a wholesale club. Now, redirecting the non-www to www is one thing. But in this case, basic web design and usability principles override SEO practices. It’s imperative that they at least get the non-www version of their homepage to return the actual homepage of their site, even if it is a 200OK. Even that would be better than the current scenario. I urge everyone to make sure this is not happening with your site. Please go check. You’ll feel better if you do. I promise.

Well, that’s pretty much it. In conclusion:

  • 301’s are good, and 302’s are generally bad
  • non-www to www redirects can help increase your homepage URL’s PageRank
  • double redirects and triple redirects are not good
  • bjs.com is a respectable Fortune 500 wholesale company

Now get out there and take a look at your .htaccess file(s)!

Cheers!

Monitoring Historical PageRank Trends & Changes

With today’s Google PageRank update, I had to dust off a few old Excel docs. Actually, I pretty much check the PageRank for all of my sites every couple of months, so there was no ‘dusting off’ involved.

With today’s Google PageRank update, I had to dust off a few old Excel docs. Actually, I pretty much check the PageRank for all of my sites every couple of months, so there was no ‘dusting off’ involved. I know, I know. PageRank is dying and/or dead. And it’s Toolbar PageRank, so it’s not even current data. In fact, looking at Toolbar PageRank is a lot like looking into a telescope that is pointed at the center of our universe. Essentially, you are looking back in time. Don’t be surprised if Emmett Brown jumps into view with a flux capacitor, offering to have Mr. Fusion eat all your garbage.

But seriously, I thought I would share the method that I use to visually monitor historical PageRank changes and trends for a set of URLs:

Monitoring Historical PageRank Changes & Trends
Monitoring Historical PageRank Changes & Trends

Yeah. I know. It looks like a weird game of Minesweeper (SEO version). But it’s easy to set up, using conditional formatting, and it really helps to quickly identify Toolbar PageRank lottery winners and losers.

Now, do I freak out if some of my sites drop in PR? Not at all. What about the URLs that move up in PageRank? Well, I do take a little joy in that. But overall, I really don’t use this data to make any major SEO decisions. And I wouldn’t recommend using PageRank as a KPI for your SEO campaigns. However, this data can be used for diagnostic purposes if something totally random occurs with your PageRank. For instance, if you see a massive PageRank drop (i.e. PR4 –> PR1), then I recommend you find out why that might have happened, as it could be affecting your overall results.

Let me know if you have any other ways of monitoring PageRank trends. I’d love to hear about them.

Cheers!

PS. I know that ‘-1’ is not a valid PR value. I use ‘-1’ instead of ‘PageRank Unavailable’. It makes it easier to sort. Boom. Roasted.

PageRank Update January 2011

Well, it looks like Google updated the toolbar PageRank today. And now everyone is going to be checking their sites for PageRank changes. It seems like the last PageRank update was back in early 2010 (April, right?).

"It's about damn time." - Angry PageRank Bird
"It's about damn time." - Angry PageRank Bird

Well, it looks like Google updated the toolbar PageRank today. And now everyone is going to be checking their sites for PageRank changes. It seems like the last PageRank update was back in early 2010 (April, right?). Ahhh, yes. Those were the days. Pre-caffeine. Pre-MayDay. Pre-Snooki being a New York Times best-selling author (link). Welcome to 2011, Google. Thanks for joining the party. Better late than never. I guess.

Nerding Out on Expired Domains, Link Equity and SEO

On Monday, Danny Sullivan published a great post on expired domains (link). More specifically, his post discusses the link equity benefits from acquiring expired domains. For example, I have a website about topic X. I noticed that another website about topic X recently went offline. It’s down. It won’t load. Oh look, the domain is available for purchase. Wow! Really? That domain has 12,000+ inbound links, and it’s a PR4. Could I purchase that domain and redirect all of its URLs to my site? Would that help boost my PR and my rankings? Or would it set off an alarm at Google? I mean, all of the sudden a domain expires, is subsequently purchased and then redirected to another domain – that’s gotta trip some sort of wire in Google’s algorithm, right?

Danny goes through several scenarios, and he even quotes Matt Cutts a few times. The article is very informative, and I’m glad he wrote it. No one has posted about this practice for a long time, so it was great to see something on the topics of expired domain acquisition and link equity. You should read the post, but the quick summary is that there are certain instances where the link credit would remain or pass to new domains. But for the most part, if you are buying expired domains and then 301 redirecting them, don’t expect any significant boost in link credit.

As I was reading this article, I could not help but remember my recent experiences and how they do not really align with some of the points in this article. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not disagreeing with Matt Cutts and Danny Sullivan. They are like the Moses and King David of SEO (I mean, they were there in the beginning, and they are probably the two most trusted sources in the SEO industry). I’m only saying that my observations don’t exactly line up with what they said in the post. I believe there are times when purchasing expired domains can be extremely useful, and there are times when I have noticed that link credit does pass from an expired domain. Here’s some of the strategies I have used in the (recent) past with good results:

  • Launching a new website? Wanna get indexed quickly? I wanted to get one of my websites indexed quickly. I found one expired domain with a DMOZ entry, and I found another expired domain with a Yahoo Directory entry. These domains were related to the topic of my new domain. I redirected them at the same time. Whether or not DMOZ or the Yahoo Directory are important or relevant any longer, my new site was indexed within a few days.  Simple and sweet. I can’t argue with science.
  • Building PR and Link Equity for New/Existing Sites. There I was. I had that site for a while, and I wasn’t really paying attention to it. I decided to see if I could increase its traffic and PR from redirecting a few more expired domains. I found a page on the web that had a list of links to sites that were relevant to my site. Wouldn’t you know it? Some of those links were to domains that had expired. After a little bit of research into those dead links and some speedy domain purchases, I had 15 domains at my disposal. I redirected them over time, not all at once. After a couple of PR updates in 2008, I noticed that my site had increased its PR. And believe me, it wasn’t because a ton of other people had linked to my site. The only thing that changed was the fact that I had redirected 15 domains. I saw an increase in traffic from referring domains because the domains that I purchased had links all over the place. And I noticed an upswing in search engine rankings, which lead to increased traffic from organic search.
  • Driving More Traffic from other Google TLDs. Guess what? I bought an expired .es domain and redirected it to a .com site hosted in the USA. I really just wanted the link juice, but I got something more than that: top rankings on Google.es for some important keywords. I guess it makes sense. Have you ever noticed that some of Google’s European properties give you more search options? For example, on google.es you will definitely notice that under the search bar there are options to search the web, search only pages in spanish, or search only pages in Spain. Crazy, huh? I have worked on a few European-based sites, so I have seen these before. I just never thought about them in the context of redirecting expired domains. I guess we learn something every day.
  • Driving More Traffic from Local Search. One of the domains I redirected was the expired domain of a company based in a certain city in America (yeah, I have to be ambiguous about that one 🙂 ). A couple weeks after I redirected the domain, I noticed that I was ranking for long-tail search terms that contained the city where that company was located. It turns out that the company had several listings in local search databases, online phonebooks and directories, etc… If you want exposure in new cities or if you just want more exposure in the city that you’re in, check into an expired domain for a local company that no longer exists. The economy sucks right now. Lots of people are going out of business. Contact some companies and see if you can buy their domain. Don’t be stupid about it. Don’t redirect a bunch of domains all at once. Just try one and see what happens. Maybe it will work for you like it did for me. Then again, maybe it won’t.
  • Don’t Alter the Whois Data! Domain Privacy? Shah, right. Google is a domain registrar and an accreditted member of ICANN (proof). You think your domains are private because you paid some extra money for domain privacy. Well guess what. Google knows it’s you! Don’t pretend that you are getting away with anything here. If at all possible, purchase domains through Escrow and leave the Whois data unaltered. Updating the Whois data is a dead give-away that the domain changed hands. When domains change hands, you can count on the existing link juice to be crushed. Mostly. As Danny points out, Google admits to having systems that do stuff. I assume these systems must do stuff like keep track of businesses acquiring other businesses, businesses merging, and any other instance where a domain might change hands. Hell, Google probably has systems monitoring other Google systems. They’ve thought of everything, haven’t they? If not, people like Dave Naylor, Jeremy Shoemaker and Greg Boser are forcing them to.
  • Servers, DNS, IPs, Oh My. You know how you just bought 50 domains because of this post? Well, before you point them all to the same server, using the same DNS numbers, you need to think about something else: how odd will it look to Google if you buy 50 domains and then point them all to the same server and then have them all redirect to the same site? It’s a dead giveaway. Some registrars are offering a 301 redirect from the registrar, so it’s not as easy to catch the fact that one person just bought and redirected 50 domains to their own site. Or you may look into virtual IPs, so that not all of your domains are sitting on the same IP address. Or you may try to grab a few hosting accounts from various hosts and split up your domains. This makes it seem like there is a true game of cat-and-mouse going on, but there really isn’t. No matter what, Google will catch you. It’s only a matter of time. Just be smart about it. Or at least as smart as possible.
  • Just Buy an Existing Website. Is there a website for sale in your vertical? Why not just buy it and add links to the site (where appropriate)? I mean, buying domains and purchasing links will cost as much money in the long run. Why not buy a website that is already trusted by the search engines and actually getting traffic from organic search? Maybe you could optimize it and add some links. Maybe both of your sites will rank high. And then you’ll have 2 sites in the SERPs. It’s not a bad approach to take, and it’s certainly more white hat than redirecting expired domains.
  • You must remember: The key is to do your research on old domains. Make sure they weren’t up to no good. Make sure they were not blacklisted. Make sure they’ve got a healthy number of inbound links. Only redirect domains that previously contained content related to your site. Also, even though everyone says that toolbar PR is outdated and not important, look for domains that have a PR of 1 or higher. It can’t hurt to have a PR (no matter how worthless/overrated/outdated many SEOs will tell you PR is these days).

There. I hope that helps you in your gray hat endeavours. Now, go forth and prosper. I mean, uh, go forth and find expired domains and then redirect them. Jeez. SEOs are nerdy.

Link Rules Hyrule, Links Rule Google SERPs

The Legend of Zelda was awesome! I remember opening it on Christmas Day back in 1987. It had a shiny golden box, and then the game itself was a brilliant, glowing masterpiece of golden plastic. Just take a look:

The Legend of Zelda golden cartridge
The Legend of Zelda golden cartridge

I had never seen anything like this. It was like opening up a golden ticket, but rather than a fattening journey through a chocolate empire, this golden ticket delivered instant access to the magical land of of Hyrule. For me, the greatest thing about this game was that it opened up my imagination like no other video game had ever done. I was used to games that only moved right-to-left or down-to-up, and those games made following the steps from beginning to end fairly simple. The Legend of Zelda was the first game where I remember getting involved in the story. I wasn’t riding Falcor and chasing the Nothing, but it was the first video game I ever played where I could not take things for granted. I remember wandering around forever looking for a certain level, and I ended up finding it by blowing up the side of a mountain on the other side of a stream. It’s as if the video game was teaching me to open up the boundaries of my mind. Secret passages in the mountain. Secret passages underneath tombstones. It was amazing to me. After all, Zelda was probably the 3rd or 4th Nintendo game I owned, and I never had more than 10 games. Regardless, I was still used to Atari games that placed playability and functionality over imagination and plot. [Note: Back in 1987, Nintendo games were like $60, and that was a lot of money back then. That still is a lot of money, but it seems like a crapload of money in 1987. Looking back, I’m surprised my parents even bought me 10 games through the years.]

Link battles in Level 1 of The Legend of Zelda
Link battles in Level 1 of The Legend of Zelda

Another awesome facet of The Legend of Zelda was the fact that the main character was a little dude named Link. He starts off as just a regular boy, but through trials and tribulations he becomes a hero. Like any other 8-year-old boy, it was easy for me to imagine that I was Link, the hero of Hyrule. And as it was a game that considerably expanded my imagination, it quickly became a world that I could escape to. I mean, sure, homework and soccer practice were fun, but I could not wait to get home and turn on my Zelda game. I got to be a hero in a magical world where I could explore the limitless wonder that was Hyrule. Unlike other Nintendo games, I wasn’t forced to go one way. I could choose my own path. I could go left, right, up or down. I got to navigate the entire realm. And I got to defeat Ganon, the Prince of Darkness, and save Princess Zelda. For me, it was an adventure that I would not find in any other 8-bit game. [Note: I played several other RPGs, like Ultima, Dragon Warrior and Final Fantasy. Perhaps I liked Zelda so much because for me it was the original. I guess I’m just sentimental or something.]

Ok. That’s good and all, but why am I talking about The Legend of Zelda on an SEO blog? That’s a good question. Let’s see if I can provide an answer that makes any sense.

I am an SEO to the core.  My being exudes a nerdy internet search aura. I eat, sleep and breath SEO. It’s not all I think about. There are a few hours each week when I watch Lost, 24 and House. Most of the time I’m thinking about SEO. While I’m thinking about SEO, I often notice similarities between SEO and seemingly-unrelated things in life (you might have noticed this fact from my posts about Walter Sobchak, Frogger and Grimlock). And since I’m nostalgic, I’m often thinking of events from my childhood. Today I was thinking about link building, and I pondered the future of SEO and the power of links. And then it hit me: Links are the undeniable rulers of organic search realm that is Google. And because I am a search marketer, when I think of the plural (links), I also start thinking of the singular (link).It’s like an SEO reflex or something! [Note: Link is the main character in The Legend of Zelda.]

Link defeats Ganon in The Legend of Zelda
Link defeats Ganon in his Death Mountain lair

As it turns out, The Legend of Zelda is a great metaphor for search engine optimization. Don’t believe me? Well check this out. Here’s how the Zelda characters would match up with important SEO concepts:

  • Hyrule = Google SERPs
    Hyrule is a magical land that requires a lot of time to navigate and explore. Much like the Google SERPs, you won’t master Hyrule on the first day. Diligence and hard work is needed to master this landscape, which is highly varied and constantly changing (like the Google SERPs).
  • Ganon, the Prince of Darkness = PageRank, Google’s Natural Search Algorithm
    Ganon is a badass. The first time you set foot in his lair, trepidation sets in. It’s a feeling like the one you get when you first set foot into the world of SEO. After the first step, you realize the size and scope of the SEO world. It’s intimidating and scary, but you will eventually learn to master many aspects of the game.
  • Princess Zelda = #1 ranking in Google
    Until you defeat Ganon and get some top rankings for your clients, peace will not exist in your SEO world. Or in Hyrule. When you achieve a #1 ranking in Google, it’s a lot like rescuing the Princess from the grips of Ganon. All your hard work and long hours finally paid off, and everyone is cheering for you. If only Google had a “Congratulations, you’re #1” screen to celebrate your success. That would be cool.
Link rescues Princess Zelda
Link rescues Princess Zelda
  • Triforce of Power = Basic SEO Principles
    The story of Hyrule is cool. Ganon and his army steals the Triforce of Power, an artifact that bestows amazing strength. Princess Zelda takes one of the pieces, breaks it into 8 pieces and scatters throughout Hyrule’s secret dungeons. In order to defeat Ganon and rescue the Princess, Link has to find and reassemble those 8 pieces. Those 8 pieces remind me of the most basic SEO strategies. In order to win at SEO, you must have these 8 elements optimized: title tags, meta tags, keyword tags, H tags, Alt tags, Link title attributes, internal navigation, sitemaps.
  • Link = Text Links
    Link was created to eventually defeat Ganon. It was going to happen. It was only a matter of time. No matter how many times the game changes, Link will find a way to rule Hyrule. The same thing goes for text links in the realm of SEO. We know that there over 200 signals that PageRank uses to determine rankings, but in the end, text links rule the world of Google SERPs.
Link rescues Princess Zelda (Peace Returns to Hyrule)
Finally, Peace Returns to Hyrule.

Despite the message in the final screen, I never once believed that the story had ended. Now, go forth and prosper in your SEO realm. Whether it be ringtones, phentermine or gambling, I wish you luck in your endeavors.