How Google, Yahoo, and Bing Made Your Life Harder For 2012
Google is a monolithic creature that promises nothing, but offers everything. At least, this is what SEO experts and online marketers tend to think. Google is hated just as much, and sometimes even more so, than it is liked. It's not uncommon to hear people complain about how Google ruined their business during the last Panda update, or how Google closed their Adsense account, or how Google stole their first-born child and disappeared like a thief in the night. OK, maybe the last one is exaggerated a bit, but so are many of the negative comments made about Google.
Over the years, the big "G" has given webmasters numerous tools to help with SEO. Some smart and savvy webmasters have seized on the opportunities given, while others have ignored them and them blamed the search engine giant when their marketing failed to pan out.
Among the short-list of improvements that Google has offered webmasters is:
The ability to submit and validate XML sitemaps.
The ability to view indexing and crawling errors.
The ability to make enhanced search listings and manage sitelinks for the best possible visibility in the SERPs (this is huge).
The ability to inform Google of a canonical URL.
The ability to set Googlebot crawl rates.
The ability to view important linking details (for links pointing to your site).
The ability to migrate your domain.
The ability to see keywords people use to find your site in the SERPs (again, this is huge)
Compared to what SEO used to be, this is incredible. Of course, Google allows much more than this little list, but even this list is immensely helpful. At least, it was helpful until Google started to yank some of these features away.
You Lost Your Link Data
Google uses backlinks to determine, at least in part, how to rank your website and for what terms your site will rank. This means that when a site links to your website, Google knows what page they are linking to, what the site uses for text in the link (i.e. anchor text), and how many links point to your site from that site as well as others.
However, Google has suppressed what links actually say about a particular page that gets ranked. Of course, this would be useful for you but it might also expose Google's secret hot sauce recipe. Still, you had at least some data to go on and you could always corroborate the limited data you received from Google with data you received from Yahoo Site Explorer.
When Yahoo sold off part of its operation to Bing last year, it axed the Site Explorer loved by nearly every webmaster and publisher on the Internet. Started in 2005, Yahoo Site Explorer was meant to lure people away from Google. It was also designed to help webmasters better understand who was linking to their site. When Yahoo sold out, they issued this statement:
"Yahoo! Search has merged Site Explorer into Bing Webmaster Tools. Webmasters should now be using the Bing Webmaster Tools to ensure that their websites continue to get high quality organic search traffic from Bing and Yahoo!."
That's a load of baloney. Anyone who has tried to access Bing's "competitive" and "high quality" Webmaster Tools area knows that Bing just isn't cutting the mustard. Dropping Site Explorer didn't do you any favors. In fact, it made your life harder because now there's one less reliable tool on the Internet to help you with your SEO. Site Explorer was arguably the best free service out there for analyzing backlinks. What's worse, Bing announced that they will no longer support the "link:" command in its search engine. Wow, what a dumb idea.
Now you have to rely on Google's "link:" command to find out who's linking to you. Using the "link:" command in Google, you can enter "link:" and then the website address you want to analyze.
This is how you use that operator:
It's been known for years that Google under-reports how many links show up using this operator. That's why you had to rely on Site Explorer to corroborate Google's data. However, If you try the "link:" operator in Bing, you'll get maybe one backlink showing. One measly backlink.
This hurts you if you're on the other side of the fence too. Imagine you're the user, not the webmaster or SEO expert. Now imagine you read about Google engaging in a little link buying in violation of its own terms of service. Imagine that you're a reporter who wants to dig down deep to find out the details of the story. You can't really verify much using Google's own tools, since they hide some of the data you need.
That's not really a good way to promote transparency and fend off accusations of a double standard. It might not be legal, but it doesn't make very good business sense. C'mon Google, we expect more from you. Users won't want to use a search engine if they find out that it's rigged. Even though Google has every right to do whatever it wants with its search engine, it should not position itself as objective to users while really being non-objective in how it actually functions. It's a bit misleading.
Third Party Solutions
You can use sites like Open Site Explorer to get your backlink data, but it's not a replacement for Google's data. First of all, third party solutions don't have the same intelligence as Google does. They may come close, but only Google knowns Google's search algorithm.
Google Keyword Referrer Data Is Gone
It used to be that you could know what keywords people used to find you on the web. This is an incredibly powerful feature that literally gave you the content ideas that you needed in order to widen your readership. Last October, Google axed this feature. With link data being hidden, and keyword referrer data now gone, SEO just got much harder for you in 2012. How the heck are you supposed to know how people are finding you?
You can still use some third party services for this, but it's not as good as getting it straight from the horse's mouth. Google claims that this move was motivated by the desire to protect user privacy. This doesn't really make much sense, since:
1) Google still provides referrer data to paid advertisers and;
2) Google collects data and then feeds it back to you via its keyword analysis tool.
Anyway, unless publishers voice their discontent with the loss of analytics, it's likely that these changes will become permanent. Even if publishers do voice their concern, there's no guarantee that the big "G," Bing, and Yahoo will listen. For now, you have to make do with what you have left, and that isn't much. Maybe it's time to stop relying so much on organic search traffic.