Monday, January 16, 2012

How important are heading elements to the rankings of webpages by search engines?


I’ve seen arguments by people who write about and study search engines and SEO very closely, which often appear written up in “SEO Expert Ranking Lists,” that HTML heading elements (<h1>, <h2>, etc.) are very important, arguments that heading elements were once important and are no longer, and arguments that heading elements were never important. Sadly, all of those arguments are likely wrong. Not so much about the importance or lack of, but rather about the reasons for that importance.
It’s possible that a search engine might notice when a word or term or phrase appears near the top of a page, or above a wall of text. It’s also possible that a search engine pays attention when those are shown in larger font sizes, or bolder than the rest of the page text, or in a different font than the remainder of the words on the page. But that prominence and that display isn’t really what a heading element is about. HTML has a font size large attribute and property. There’s also a bold property. Any words on a page near the top of that page might be said to be more prominent than others.
You can use many HTML element attributes and values and/or cascading style sheet properties to make words within different HTML elements bolder and larger, and to transform them to all capitals or a different font or color, or all of those if you want. You can purposefully place certain text at the top of a page to make it appear that the rest of the page is described by those words.

A search engine might see that only a few words are bold on a page, or are italicized, or in a different font or color or larger size and take some kind of meaning from that, perhaps even giving the use of that word or set of terms or phrase a little more weight on that page. And those words could be in a heading element, but they don’t have to be.

Semantic Relationships

When you use a heading element, whether <h1>, or <h2>, or so on down the line, you aren’t just impacting the look and feel of the text within that element, but you are also defining a semantic relationship between those words and the words that follow them. You’re telling visitors, and search engines that the utterings on the page that follow are related to the terms in your heading in a meaningful way, even if you don’t quite understand that, and don’t quite do that right. And many people don’t.
When you use a top level heading, or an <h1>, you’re setting up a semantic relationship between that heading and the remainder of the content on a page, describing what it is about. If you then use a second <h1> on the same page, you’re creating some potential confusion, because someone, or a search engine might see that as the ending of the semantic relationship between the content after the first <h1> and the start of this new <h1>. If instead you use a second level heading element, or an <h2>, you’re continuing the semantic relationship between the top level heading above with that content, but defining an included semantic relationship with the content headed by the second level heading.
Words within heading elements might help a page rank in search engines because they are displayed larger, or bolder, or in different colors than the text they head. I’ve seen the argument that a search engine might give weight to words contained in an HTML heading element because they might presume that the content in that page is being defined by that heading.

Weight of Headings Defined by How Well They Describe a Semantic Relationship?

Heading elements can help a search engine understand the semantics of words on a page a little better. Search engines can go out on the Web and index pages and explore the relationships between terms within headings, and the content they describe within that index. They can look for similar relationships on all the documents within their body of web pages that use the same terms within headings, and see if there might tend to be some kind of co-occurrence of words and phrases and concepts within those matches of headings and content using those headings.
So for instance, you may have a page that uses a top level heading (<h1>) of “Cities in New York,” and the page contains information such as the names of a number of cities in New York State, and information about those cities, and there may be a good number of other pages on the Web that use the same heading, and contain many of the same city names and information and concepts. You may also have another page that uses the top level heading (<h1>) of “Cities in New York” while providing information about New Jersey Cities.
The New York Cities heading with the New Jersey Cities information might not carry as much weight with the search engines as New York headings on other pages that head content about New York Cities.
Are search engines using the semantic relationships between heading elements and the content they head as a ranking signal?
They might be, or they might not be, and that might depend upon how well headings tend to describe the content they head.

Other HTML Elements and Semantic Relationships

There are many other semantic relationships from certain types of HTML elements that search engines are looking at more closely, and have been for a number of years, and a number of those signals seem to be pretty useful. There are patents and papers and even actual services from the search engines that describe and take advantage of those semantic relationships. More on that in my next post.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

SEO 2012 – What The Future Holds for Social and Search Optimization by MJTAYLOR on JANUARY 2, 2012

Before I share my prediction for SEO trends in 2012, it seems reasonable to review myTop 5 SEO Predictions for 2011 – a thread I wrote for v7N – and see if I made the mark for the past year.
Mobile Search SEO will become as important as standard web site search optimization. If the prediction of CNN/Fortune’s Seth Weintraub is correct — that ½ billion smartphones will be sold this coming year –  smartphones will surpass computers as a way to access the Internet in 2011.
Smartphones have apparently not yet surpassed PCs as the preferred way to access the Internet, but the trend continues in that direction and the use of mobile for social networking strengthens that momentum. Mobile access is predicted to outpace desktop access by 2014:
2. Social Networking to Explode. Since Google and Bing confirmed that Twitter and Facebook have an impact on rankings, social media activity is set to increase exponentially.
Not only did the use of social media grow, but social networking held the International stage  as a central player in the Arab Spring.  Google also made a creditable entry (at last) into the social market with Google+. The introduction of Business Pages on Google+ added SEO value to the mix.
3. Google Places and Reviews will continue to grow in importance. Google 
 Places will continue to find their way into SERPs and savvy webmasters and SEOs will go beyond optimizing their Google Places for client sites. ..  the search-smartest of webmasters will have their site marked up with rdfa “rich snippets” to make sure Google displays reviews in the SERPs where applicable.
In July, 2011, the landscape of Google Places changed significantly when the search giant stopped publishing 3rd party reviews. At the same time, reviews took a more prominent position – with a second button inviting visitors to create a Review.
4. Duplicate Content - this year’s Mayday algorithm update and the roll out of Caffeine – an update to Google’s infrastructure to make it more flexible – set the stage for more frequent updates to the algorithm. Google will continue to take aim on less valuable content. Expect more intense duplicate content filtering, and expect “self service” links to decrease in value. Focus on unique content of true value.
5. Content & Link Bait to Continue to Reign. Google will continue to get smarter and discern between legitimate link popularity and the sort that is faked by link wheels, 3 way linking and article spinning, to name a few. The ability to create and publish content (King) that attracts links (Queen) will grow in importance. Unsolicited links to fresh, unique content will continue to be the Royal Flush.

 Places will continue to find their way into SERPs and savvy webmasters and SEOs will go beyond optimizing their Google Places for client sites. ..  the search-smartest of webmasters will have their site marked up with rdfa “rich snippets” to make sure Google displays reviews in the SERPs where applicable.

The Panda updates certainly took aim at what Google called “content farms” and late in the year Freshness got a boost in the algorithm. Content Rules.
My score: four out five isn’t too bad.

SEO Trends for 2012

SEO 2012
So what’s on the SEO Plate as 2012 unfolds?
Google+ - which reached a top ten market share position in social networks in November just months after its introduction – will continue to play an increasing role in Social SEO.  The search giant’s social platform seems to have combined the best features of Twitter and Facebook and in some cases gone one better.Some Google+ innovations, such as privacy controls at the time of posting, were quickly adopted by Facebook. True social networking remains the province of Facebook, but professionals – especially in the technology fields and many of the arts, such as photography will continue to find Google+ a more robust alternative to Twitter.
The introduction of Google+ “brand”  pages coincided with the new platform’s entrance into the top ten of social sites; some SEOs believe that Google+ will continue to grow – if only slightly – as long as site owners find  SEO and traffic value from  those pages. Vanity URLs (expec ted this year) should support the trend.  Brand pages have also found their way onto Google Results – a “controversial occupation” of search geography.
Google+ shares will continue to be part of Google’s track toward personalized 
  1. search. If you are logged in, you are more and more likely to see links and comments from your network contacts.
  2. Away From Keywords – toward traffic and conversion. When Google Analytics dropped the keyword referral data from view; it underscored an increasing trend away from tracking “ranking” for query strings. Clients still want it, but personalized search makes it an increasing less important metric. Traffic and conversion becomes more important.
  3. Quality Content Continues to Reign  -  The Freshness Factor and Panda’s assault on poor content sites means webmasters must continue to update their sites to reflect the latest trends and news in their industry.
  4. Bing will continue to grow in importance. Google lost 5% of its market share to MSN’s revamped search engine this year – and MSN’s ties with Yahoo and Facebook will continue to make the Bing presence larger in desktop search. Google’s increasing mobile presence (more than half of smartphones sold in 2011 were Androids) may mitigate some of that growth, though.
  5. Move over Rich Snippets: Rich Snippets will share the Semantic Web Stage with Schema, a Microdata markup for web pages that is recognized by Google, Bing and Yahoo.  Google continues to support Rich Snippets, but the trend is toward the more standardized Schema.
  6. SeoMoz post on Schema with examples and discussion of mixing the languages and vocabulary of the diverse types of markup available:
  7. A full list of the document types:
  8. Google Help for Schema:
  9. Resources for Rich Snippets:
  10. Anchor text decreases in value?  More than one SEO observed recently  that the anchor text of new links  seemed to immediately push down the rankings for the same query strings. Certainly it makes sense that Google, which has trouble identifying paid links and similar link spam, would see devaluing the anchor text as an easy way to undermine attempts to directly manipulate SERPs.  And it goes hand in hand with the this past year’s devaluation of keyword rich 
  11. Speech Recognition.  This 7th prediction is not mine, but one I found here: 
    Speech recognition – Siri, the speech recognition ”assistant” on the latest iPhone, makes people talk with their phones and it’s extremely popular already. In 2012 we will see Apple’s competitors come up with similar tools so that we don’t need to talk to people or type in search queries anymore. Is this the end of SEO as some journalists assume (just like some suggest after every other major change in the search industry)?
    No, it just means different kinds of queries, maybe more colloquial or clumsy ones. Maybe more dialogue with your search engine, for example ”I want something to eat”. I can’t imagine people just saying one, two or three word queries in public without looking silly. So they will talk as they do with other people.