During the past year, the Search Engine Watch forums have grown into a lively community, with thousands of members discussing just about everything related to search.
I asked Forums Editor Elisabeth Osmeloski to flag the most interesting and active discussions of the past year. Her choices follow.
Keywords Co-occurrence and Semantic Connectivity
This monster discussion was started by user Orion, who introduced himself as "a formal scientist, with special interest in AI applied to IR technology." The post describes a number of concepts taken from information retrieval theory that can be applied to search engine optimization.
Despite being highly technical, the post is one of the most popular on the Search Engine Watch forums, viewed more than 57,000 times. It also spawned a lively discussion, ending up with 172 replies before being closed for further comments.
It's a hefty slog, but well worth the time if you're interested in understanding some of the more technical aspects of how search engines work, and how you can apply formal information retrieval theory to search engine optimization.
Major Google Changes: Latent Semantic Analysis
Most SearchDay readers know that Google makes major changes to its relevancy algorithms from time to time (so do the other engines, but Google's changes seem to garner the most attention). These algorithm changes are given colorful nicknames, such as Florida, Jagger, Gilligan and Bourbon, and they range from minor tweaks to large-scale changes that cause a lot of consternation in the SEO community.
Algorithm changes also generate a lot of discussion, and often a lot of controversy among members who interpret Google's actions in different lights. This discussion sheds light on the various methods search engine optimization specialists use to dissect and understand what's going on behind the scenes at Google.
How Long Does It Take For Search Engines To Remove Spam Sites?
All search engines proclaim that they hate spam just as much, if not more, than we users do. They all employ legions of "spam police" who work hard to try to keep spam out of the indexes, or eliminate it if it manages to creep past the junk-detection algorithms.
But how long, exactly, does it take before spam is eliminated from search engines after it's detected? Our forum members offered up a number of examples that showed widely varying actions on the part of the engines.
Matt Cutts Comments On Reputable Sites & Link Selling
Google engineer Matt Cutts, a frequent speaker at Search Engine Strategies, has achieved something like rock-star status among search marketers, for his un-Googlelike candidness and willingness to "engage the enemy" by discussing specific do's and don'ts with webmasters.
This discussion starts off with a very brief quote from Matt's blog that set off a literal firestorm of controversy:
"Reputable sites that sell links won't have their search engine rankings or PageRank penalized .... However, link-selling sites can lose their ability to give reputation (e.g. PageRank and anchortext)."
In other words, Google doesn't mind if people sell valuable real-estate (e.g. links) on their site, but these links may not convey the "power" to enhance the reputation of linked-to web pages. Forum members offered a wide range of opinions on this topic, with some great arguments, pro-and-con.
Ethical Search Engine Optimisation Explained
One of the biggest questions people doing search engine optimization face is in defining the boundary between "aggressive" and "unethical" search engine optimization. How far is too far? If a particular technique "works" to accomplish your search marketing goals, and especially if it doesn't harm the quality of search results or negatively impact another web site, what's wrong with that?
This forum starts with references to search marketer Alan Perkins' well-known article on ethical search engine optimization, comparing it with Andrew Goodman's writeup of a black-hat vs. white-hat panel discussion at Search Engine Strategies. As usual, once forum members started going a wide range of opinions, examples, positions and counter-positions were examined.
Elisabeth also offered up a forum discussion that covered what she described as the scandal of the year:
Traffic Power Files Suit Against SEOBook
Traffic Power gained a reputation for pushing the limits with search optimization and getting many of their clients banned from search engines. The company also faced investigations and sanctions from regulatory agencies after being the subject of hundreds of complaints from customers.
That didn't stop the company from suing Aaron Wall, operator of a web site SEOBook, for publishing comments about Traffic Power's activities. In this discussion, we have a wide variety of opinions posted, but some of the most interesting come from Ian McAnerin, who's both the moderator of the search and legal issues section of the forums, as well as a practicing attorney.
NOTE: Article links often change. In case of a bad link, use the publication's search facility, which most have, and search for the headline.
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