Google Search Engine Rankings Bouncing Around

The last week or see has seen a ton of weirdness going on with Google. I’ve been seeing a lot of stragness in the Google SERP’s on many many searches, and it looks like Google rolled out a “Penguin” update, and then did something else..  but they seem kind of messed up right now.

Another quick observation which I have to look more into is that I’m seeing a lot more traffic on a significant number of sites that is originating with Bing and Yahoo. I know that something has been in the works as far as an agreement between Firefox and Yahoo but am not sure if that is in effect yet, where Yahoo is to become the default search engine for new installations of the Firefox browser.

I won’t have time to delve into this for the next couple of days too much, but for now, it’s an interesting observation that has my attention.

What have you been noticing?

Bounce Rate – Does Bing Provide More Relevant Results?

I am personally finding better results when using the search engine Bing recently. However, Google still has a huge gigantic market share of search results and I doubt that will change anytime soon.

I realize that my opinion is subjective – what does “better results” actually mean? Well to me, it means I am getting results that are relevant to what I am actually looking for and that is helpful to me based on my search query in the first couple of pages of search results. What does it mean to you? My own opinion was unscientifically confirmed when I took the “Bing Challenge” as well.

I wondered if there was an objective way to determine the “quality” of search engine results or the relevancy of them, based on data that I have. And for that, I turned to Google Analytics and used the data that Google provides me with.  I’m also thinking that the measure of bounce rate might be an interesting measure to use. For visitors that are referred to sites from either Bing or Google, which visitors stick around more often and which do not? There are some suggestions in the SEO world that Google uses the bounce rate of visitors to a site as one of the many factors in their search results algorithm to determine rankings for any search term.

According to Wikipedia:

Bounce rate (sometimes confused with exit rate)[1] is an Internet marketing term used in web traffic analysis. It represents the percentage of visitors who enter the site and “bounce” (leave the site) rather than continue viewing other pages within the same site.

[…]

A bounce occurs when a web site visitor only views a single page on a website, that is, the visitor leaves a site without visiting any other pages before a specified session-timeout occurs. There is no industry standard minimum or maximum time by which a visitor must leave in order for a bounce to occur. Rather, this is determined by the session timeout of the analytics tracking software.

 

So, I’m using Google Analytics as the tracking software. Presumably, the bounce rate that Google uses in their tracking software is based on the same definition if there is one, that they would use in any part of their algorithm that uses Bounce Rate as a factor in their SERP’s.

I examined 6 different websites, all in totally different niches that I have access to their Analytics reporting. Four of those sites are directly controlled by my business, while the other two are clients of mine. The results were interesting to say the least. And the results beg the question: “Is Google truly the best search engine providing the most relevant search results for the user’s search terms and phrases?”

Is it possible that indeed, Bing provides superior results?

There are problems however, with using Bounce Rate as a measure of whether or not a URL was relevant to a search result. We’re told that the lower the Bounce Rate, the better. If we assume this is true, then Google has a bit of a problem.

On the other hand, a high bounce rate could mean that a searcher found exactly what they were looking for when they clicked through to a URL from a search result. If they found exactly what they were looking for; an answer to a question, a solution to a problem, or an article of interest that gave them pause for thought, they might not be clicking around the site they landed on for more information.

But let’s assume for now that a low bounce rate is preferred and how the Google engineers may have determined that a low bounce rate is a preferred as a measure of relevancy.

Let’s take a look at the data Google provides. This is for the dates between August 29, 2012 and September 29, 2012. These six sites have in common that they get a minimum of 1,000 unique visitors per month, with a few of them significantly more than that.

Site #1:

  • Google Bounce Rate: 35.94%
  • Bing Bounce Rate: 16.83%

Site #2:

  • Google Bounce Rate: 41.16%
  • Bing Bounce Rate: 37.07

Site #3:

  • Google Bounce Rate: 21.47%
  • Bing Bounce Rate: 14.56%

Site #4:

  • Google Bounce Rate: 6.98%
  • Bing Bounce Rate: 3.61%

(Above numbers are very enviable no matter who wins and I was very surprised at how low it was)

Site #5:

  • Google Bounce Rate: 11.88%
  • Bing Bounce Rate: 26.43%

Site #6:

  • Google Bounce Rate: 44.31%
  • Bing Bounce Rate: 23.81%

In five out of the six website analytics data that I took a look at, there was a significantly lower bounce rate with visitors coming from Bing than those who arrived via Google’s search results. Granted, Google also provided a significantly higher number of referrers overall, but it generally matches the market share of each search engine.

So, if Bounce Rate is a determining factor in how well accepted a site is to a visitor, is it not interesting that Bing Results seem to indicate that they are providing better results overall as visitors are finding for whatever search term they used, some motivation to stick around more than Google users?

Of course, the answer could be more complex as perhaps the demographics and some other characteristic information of the users need to be taken into consideration as well. Having said that, although I’ve provided results for the top six of the websites that we monitor Google Analytics data for, the results are typical for all of the sites that we monitor.

I’m curious as to what you find when you compare the Bounce Rate of visitors to your site that have been referred by either Google or Bing. And how would you interpret these results?

I am also curious as to how these numbers stack up against each other from periods prior to the major Panda and Penguin updates. I took a cursory look and interestingly to me, there was not quite as much of a spread between Google and Bing – which indicates to me that in Google’s “quest for quality,” they haven’t achieved it in their war against whatever they are warring over and making significant changes in their SERP’s (yes, two of the above sites were hit by either Panda or Penguin).

 

Not The Pepsi Challenge But The Bing Challenge

I remember years ago as a teenager, going to the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto during the late summer. It was a time when Pepsi Cola was doing some major marketing and they instituted the “Take The Pepsi Challenge.” At the Ex, there were tables set up where people could sample a glass of Pepsi and a glass of Coke to take this challenge, to see which one they preferred. You were not told which was which before sipping from each glass, but after sampling, you were asked which one tasted better to you.

Microsoft has initiated their own challenge in an interesting way, although you are not tasting anything. On a website owned by Microsoft, they are asking you to rate Bing’s search results Vs. Google’s. I first learned about the website via the Twitter post made by “Lord Of Seo” when he twitted “People chose Bing nearly 2 to 1 in a blind test. Which will you pick? #bingiton at http://www.bingiton.com/Landingpage.aspx?form=&publ=&crea= …

People choosing Bing 2:1? Well, I’m not surprised as I myself have begun to prefer Bing results over Google’s for quite some time now. Not only Bing, but also the search results that duckduckgo.com  provide seem more relevant to my search queries.

I thought I’d give it a shot myself and headed over to BingItOn. You’re asked to type in a search query and then select what you think are the best results, five times (each time, using a different search query). You’re also offered the option of rating the results you see as a “Draw.”

In my case, I was not surprised to see that Bing slightly won. I chose the Bing results for three rounds, one round went to Google, and one was a “Draw.” Here’s a screenshot of the results:

bingiton results - bing wins

As I wrote, I’m not surprised. I personally think Google’s search results have deteriorated drastically in recent months. It seems to me that in all their efforts to get rid of so called “web spam” and their attempts to be everything to everyone, they’ve actually done a worse job at providing good results for what I am looking for. It seems I am not alone in this thinking. In a way, it’s sad for me as I used to love Google. I was rooting them for them and always hoped they would be more successful, and harbouring my own dislike for Microsoft, I never thought I’d see the day when I might begin recommending Microsoft’s  search engine Bing to others.

Interestingly, in looking at quite a number of websites that I monitor Google Analytics for, I’m seeing a higher bounce rate for visitors that are referred to those sites from Google’s SERP’s than those from Bing’s SERP’s. What does that suggest? More study is needed, but it suggests to me that Bing is providing results to its users that are more relevant in the first place. Bing users are liking what they see when they land on web pages to a higher degree than Google users.

Getting back to that “Take The Pepsi Challenge” test – as a teenager I thought I preferred Coca Cola. I have to admit that I was taken aback when I chose Pepsi over Coke, and since then, it’s been what I have purchased when I do want a cola beverage.

Will you take the Bing It On challenge yourself? I’d love to know your results – feel free to post them in the comments below after you head over to Bing It On here.

 

Google – The Stupidity of Even Thinking Of Backlink Penalties…

… for links that are so called “dodgy” or from “bad neighbourhoods.”

I have seen so many web masters now worrying about their backlink profile, and for good reason. Google has not been very clear about how a bunch of backlinks that they don’t trust, could affect your own site’s search engine rankings. In the past, Google has indicated that backlinks would not hurt you. The belief was that Google would simply discount links its bots would find while indexing the internet, that their algorithms placed little or no value on.

I think Google and its web spam team are a bit messed up if they think that they can penalize websites that have dodgy links linking back to it, as if the website owner or someone they may have hired, are the ones responsible. Let me explain why:

Years ago, I was pretty anal about going through my website statistics. It wasn’t just the top referrers I was interested in, but it often amused me to check out the large numbers of referrers I’d get that would only refer perhaps one visitor in the entire month. My curiosity was due to the fact I was always interested in any new links my site might have received. It was kind of neat, to me, to see that some site in my niche, with a Russian domain extension, and that had content similar to my niche, had discovered my site and thought it worthwhile to link to.

However, I also discovered that there were some pretty bizarre websites linking to me that had at least one click through to my site as well. At first, I could not understand why a website located in an Asian country that seemed to be all about popular Asian singers, would be linking to my fly fishing site.

There were also times when I would go to a web page that had supposedly referred some visitor to mine with a link, and there was no link there at all, although there would be links to dozens of other sites. Odd that a website would place a link to my page, someone clicked it, and then the link is removed.

But this does not always happen where the link is removed. So what could be the point of this? Most of these sites that seemed totally irrelevant to mine also appeared pretty junky with low or zero PageRank, while my site had a PR of 2 or 3 at the time (4 today).

Well, it struck me one day while I was doing a search for something, and Google returned some site’s Awstats in their results: Perhaps there are some website owners or some so called SEO people who set up systems to create links from their sites to better quality sites, then automate clicks on the links, thus generating a referral in the other sites’ statistical and website analytical packages. Knowing that many websites have their website statistics packages configured so that Google can easily discover and index them, this could provide hundreds and thousands of backlinks to their site from higher quality sites.

That was the only reason I could think of; otherwise what was the point of some ugly website about the hottest Indian Singer, or some corny adult porn site doing with a page of links that included one to a fly fishing site? I would see sometimes hundreds of these types of referrers in my analytics programs (back then, I was using a website analytics package called “http-analyze,” developed by the German company, Netstore.de. I don’t think they continue to do any development on website statistics), however, there are many many websites configured with Awstats and similar packages that are not password protected and that Google has indexed.

I have never hired outside SEO help for that website, so I absolutely know without any doubt, that any link to that site was not anything I did or ever asked for, from these “bad neighbourhood” or irrelevant websites.

And now I’m supposed to worry or be concerned about this? I’m supposed to be concerned that some other website has linked to me, clicked on the link, with possibly the sole purpose of Google indexing my Awstats installation, and finding a link back to their website? And hundreds of them doing this to my site?

That’s insane. I was speaking with a website owner of a very high quality site, aimed at a very professional niche, who advised me that they had recently received a “Unnatural Link Warning” letter in their Google Webmaster Tools. They said, “Ian, I did some checking and found a bunch of really gross pornsites linking to us, and I have no idea why. Even the pages that they have the links don’t make sense.”

This particular website that they own has a PR of 5. Is it possible, that a network of low quality adult sites, could be creating the links themselves to this site and other sites, just for the purposes of getting a link back to theirs from any analytics packages that Google might be able to crawl? It very well could be the case. And if Google is seeing this, and somehow it’s causing a flag, then Google really needs to rethink their whole idea of penalties for websites.

I have a concern that Matt Cutts and the Google Web Spam Team have got such a hardened attitude toward what they call “Web Spam,” that they have gone way overboard, in their attempts to solve what they see as a problem, hoping to give themselves a pat on the back, but in the end, there is that old George Doubleya Bush attitude of brushing off collateral damage they have caused.

I do care if my websites have links that are linking out to dodgey websites. It does come up at times; I might have written an article, referring to something on another site and linking to it, but over time, that domain has since changed hands and now is nothing like what it was when I first wrote the article. I have to keep my eye on that kind of thing. But does Google now expect me to also keep an eye on who is linking to me??

That is just insane. Just as the idea of a “disavow link” button in GWMT’s is insane – I don’t have time for that, do you? Who has time to go and look at every link, and manually “disavow” it? That’s just ridiculous, and many website owners are not even savvy enough to know what they might or should do.

What do you think?

Is The Penguin Scratching Under Its Feathers?

Google keeps putting out posts and guidelines and talk about “quality” (however that is defined – quality in this case is subjective and how one ever create a logarithm that can precisely define it is beyond me), but I know quality, at least to me, when I see it.

I also know junk when I see it. And from continuing to use Google for search, I can see that for me, and I’m sure for an awful lot of other humans, the machines at Google are producing low quality, junky search results in many instances.

The sad part right now is that there are so many so-called “experts” who are claiming they know the answer to getting your site ranked again if it tanked with Google’s latest update called “Penguin.” If you want, you can read a bunch of different opinions, and what is funny, you’ll often find the exact opposite opinions as to why or what caused your site to drop, or what you should be doing to help revive the rankings.

Almost everyone that has an interest in SEO knows that when Penguin hit, the search results for the term:

[viagra]

were totally bizarre, as were some other competitive search terms. The corporate website for Viagra, viagra.com, appeared to have been penalized! This has since been fixed, but this evening, I did a search on the term, and again see totally irrelevant results on Page 1. Page 1, #10 is a link to this page: http://pinto.scripts.mit.edu/Research/Monster16GPU

It’s a page about a 16-GPU Monster computer and there is no mention of viagra anywhere on it, including in the HTML source code.

This is junk. This is not quality. Mat Cutts might be a really nice guy, but he also comes across as this guy that is kind of like Forrest Gump, but with a side that he’s out “to get over SEO’d” sites – which is fine – and he’s also admitted that Google makes mistakes – which is great.

But come on! There is a huge mistake that is still going on with the Penguin! It’s getting close to offering up an apology and instead of smugly suggesting they’ve caught bad SEO practices, they need to fix their mistakes which are so glaringly obvious. They have ruined some great sites that I used to find in search results – sites that I never bookmarked, assuming I’d find them again when I searched on Google.  And they seem pretty smug about it, and confident – I wonder if any of the spam team search engineers have done a search on commonly searched on words and phrases?

Something, or some things, in this latest update has introduced some pretty big fleas under the Penguin’s feathers. Now the question is, are the engineers just scratching the Penguin’s feathers to relieve the itch, or are they going to get rid of the fleas that have been introduced?

With such crappy results for so many searches, one wonders why Google did not revert back to its algorithm pre Penguin. Most companies, upon seeing such a lousy result, would do so. But perhaps Google as a corporate entity has now grown so smug about itself, it has forgotten what made it a great search engine in the first place. While it tries to rule the world with all it’s “services” and get everyone hooked in, perhaps they think they are now “King” and so crappy doesn’t matter anymore.

In all seriousness, and I never thought I’d see the day when I would say this, but Bing provides far better and more relevant results for many searches than Google does. So does http://duckduckgo.com which also guarantees privacy.

Here’s another interesting thing I’m seeing – after the Penguin update, on those sites I have Analytics installed on, those who found those sites via Bing or Yahoo have a much lower bounce rate than those who arrived via a Google search.

What does that tell you? Bing and Yahoo are providing results that are actually more relevant to the searcher’s intent than Google is.

Quit scratching, Google. Penguins are cute, but I’m sure a penguin with fleas is not a sorry sight, and it’s time to take this Penguin to the veterinarian.