Natural Search Blog


Plea for a New Open Format: Open Local Profile Format

My most-recent Locals Only column just pubbed at SearchEngineLand.com, titled “A Call To Standardize Local Search Listings“.

The benefactor of Open Local Profile Format would be Main Street
Open Local Profile Format

In it, I’m calling for the companies operating in the local search space to come together and agree upon a common data format protocol that would allow businesses and organizations to more easily submit their directory profile information to the great plethora of local info sites where users go to get information. The local search engines, online yellow pages, and various vertical directories should come together to reduce costs/complexity for businesses, and to facilitate improved information for consumers, similar to how the major search engines last year came together to agree on one common submission protocol – Sitemaps – for submitting sites’ page links to them. Read on for more details.

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Google, Yahoo & MicroSoft to Cooperate on Sitemaps

I was delighted today that the Google and Yahoo search engines announced at PubCon that they would jointly support and collaborate upon one protocol for webmasters to use for submitting their site URLs for potential inclusion. View the video of the announcement here. MicroSoft has also apparently agreed to use the same protocol as well.

To support this initiative, they will jointly support sitemaps.org. If you recall, “sitemaps” was the product name that Google had been using, and which became deprecated just a few months ago in favor of “Google Webmaster Tools”. Obviously, the wheels had already begun turning to repurpose the “Sitemaps” brand name into a jointly-operated service.

Now when Sitemaps are generated to follow the common protocol, webmasters will still need to submit the link feeds to each of the SEs via their existing managment tools such as in Google Webmaster Tools and in Yahoo! Site Explorer.

If you recall, I was one of a number of webmasters out there who had requested that they collaborate on a common protocol, such as in a blog post I wrote back in September:

“Hopefully each of the major search engines will try to employ identical or compatible formats for site URLs, because it will be a hassle to have to keep up with multiple formats. This is an area where the SEs really ought to cooperate with one another for “pro bono publicoâ€? – for the common good. Currently, Yahoo seems to be just defensively immitating Google in this arena, and no one’s showing signs of collaborating.”

Kudos to Google and Yahoo for overcoming traditional corporate competitiveness to do something that mutually benefits website owners as well as the search engines!

 

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To Use Sitemaps, or Not To Use Sitemaps, That’s the Question

It was really great when Google launched its Sitemaps (recently renamed to Webmaster Tools, as part of their Webmaster Central utilities) – when that happened it was a really great indication of a new time where technicians who wished to help make their pages findable would not automatically be considered “evil” and the SEs might provide tools to help technicians disclose their pages directly. Yahoo soon followed with their own tools, named Yahoo! Site Explorer, and surely MSN will bow to peer pressure with their own submission system and tools.

Initially, I thought that there wasn’t significant advantage to me for using these systems, because I’d already developed good methods for providing our page links to the search engines through the natural linking found in our site navigation systems.

Why should I expend yet more time and resources to dynamically produce the link files?

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Google Sitemaps Reveal Some of the Black Box

I earlier mentioned the recent Sitemaps upgrades which were announced in June, and how I thought these were useful for webmasters. But, the Sitemaps tools may also be useful in other ways beyond the obvious/intended ones.

The information that Google has made available in Sitemaps is providing a cool bit of intel on yet another one of the 200+ parameters or “signals” that they’re using to rank pages for SERPs.

For reference, check out the Page Analysis Statistics that are provided in Sitemaps for my “Acme” products and services experimental site:

Google Sitemaps Page Analysis

It seems unlikely to me that these stats on “Common Words” found “In your site’s content” were generated just for the sake of providing nice tools for us in Sitemaps. No, the more likely scenario would seem to be that Google was already collating the most-common words found on your site for their own uses, and then they later chose to provide some of these stats to us in Sitemaps.

This is significant, because we’ve already known that Google tracks keyword content for each page in order to assess its relevancy for search queries made with that term. But, why would Google be tracking your most-common keywords in a site-wide context?

One good explanation presents itself: Google might be tracking common terms used throughout a site in order to assess if that site should be considered authoritative for particular keywords or thematic categories.

Early on, algorithmic researchers such as Jon Kleinberg worked on methods by which “authoritative” sites and “hubs” could be identified. IBM and others did further research on authority/hub identification, and I heard engineers from Teoma speak on the importance of these approaches a few times at SES conferences when explaining the ExpertRank system their algorithms were based upon.

So, it’s not all that surprising that Google may be trying to use commonly-occuring text to help identify Authoritative sites for various themes. This would be one good automated method for classifying sites for subject matter categories and keywords.

The take-away concept is that Google may be using words found in the visible text throughout your site to assess whether you’re authoritative for particular themes or not.

 


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