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"google" category

Google data highlighter

5th March 2014
Categories: content, google, seo

If your website is full of useful information, there's a new way of getting that information to your customers before they've clicked the link to your site in Google's search results - called "Google data highlighter".

Using the highlighter tool, you can tell Google more about the data on your website, so that it can present it in a so-called "rich snippet" in search results.

To start with, you specify a starting page for a data set - say, for example, your news page.  Then using Google's preview of your page, you highlight elements such as the title, date, author, and categories, and Google tries to find other pages set out in the same way.  Once you're done, Google will start using this data on the next crawl - so be prepared to wait a few days before seeing the new search results.

We've gone through this process with the Oxford Web blog - what do you think of the results?

Panda, Penguin, Hummingbird - should I worry?

28th October 2013
Categories: google, seo

SEO "Experts" want you to worry about Google algorithm updates. They want you to think that nasty bad old Google is making changes that will affect you, and only those clever Search Engine "professionals" can dig you out of that hole.

The latest "update" is an improvement to the the search engine's handling of questions, and of its understanding of the relevance of your search or question.  Actually Google is updating its software all the time, and the "update" is basically a round-up of a set of changes which Amit Singhal announced on Google's 15th birthday.

Google search results are of course very different to Yellow Pages, and not all pages can be the top 10 most relevant pages for a particular phrase.  When people say they've been "attacked" by Google, and try to pick on an "update", it's really like saying that they've been attacked by the motorway, when they're going at 65 and another car happens to be going at 70.

What can we expect from Hummingbird?

Hummingbird is about users - Amit Singhal talks about looking for works of art and comparing genres - or comparing food ingredients, and the idea of remembering "context" - i.e. what you just asked about.  In other words, "search" is becoming more of a conversation than a single question.

In a nutshell, the Hummingbird update is aimed at giving users answers to their questions - rather than putting your competitor above you in natural search listings.

Sow what can we learn from Hummingbird?

If your service or product answers a question, and more people are going to be asking that question because of the update, then why not ask that question on your website? 

So for example, if cheese is your thing, your website should use questions like "where can I buy cheese?" and not just statements.

This approach isn't the official line on Hummingbird, but it makes sense that you adapt (or gather, grow) your copy to include the phrases people most often use.

For more SEO advice, follow the "seo" link at the top of this article. Enjoy!

Manage your keywords and stay relevant

19th June 2013
Categories: google, seo

Quite often new customers will ask us how to attain a more prominent position in search engine results.

Of course, often the real target is more sales. And sometimes it turns out that they are getting enough clicks but not enough conversions, and the first focus should be on usability.

But sometimes they do really need more prominence on Google - and the question is - "for which keywords?". At this point, we will undertake a keyword analysis, using various sources of information, to find out where to put most of the effort. Our e-news article on the "long tail" is useful reading if you are contemplating this kind of activity.

But how do you stay relevant?

Frstly, you need to understand what people are typing into Google when they are looking for your product or service. There are two kinds of information about what people are typing into Google - (1) internal - i.e. phrases which do actually cause your site to appear in search results (not necessarily on the first page) - this is supplied by Google Analytics now, so it's a real mine of information - and (2) external - lists of keywords suggested by search engines or other sites, which may not necessarily cause your website to come up. These lists are both important.


As time moves on, people may find different ways to describe your product. It may be that they are looking for new brand names which aren't mentioned on your site - or lookng for activities, consumers or suppliers of the product you sell, as a roundabout way of finding that product. Depending on your industry, you may need to get a new keyword list every 6 months or so and work out what to include in your site.


But when Google Analytics tells you that for a certain key phrase dear to your heart you appear on page 2 - but have never been clicked - you can do a lot more:

  • Improve your site's rank generally - this always helps, and we can tell you how.
  • Improve the relevance of one particular page to that keyword - without swamping the page.
  • Change the meta-description, so that what people see in the search results is enticing enough to make them click.

So if you're not reading that Gogole Analytics data every month or so - you may be missing out on opportunities.

The website that grew, part 10

7th March 2013
Categories: google, seo, tWtG

(for previous episodes, try the "The website that grew" category)

Nancy was surprisingly willing to trust Kate's judgement, but had a few questions.

"Can you tell me what factors might prevent the shop from taking 500 online orders every month?"

"I suppose - if people don't find us, or find a cheap competitor, or find a competitor's website easier to use."

"OK, those seem like they might be real difficulties."

"We're investing money with Hugh; he's going to make sure that the website is found."

"Hmm, it doesn't say that on the cost breakdown."

"OK, I'll ask him about that."

"And what about competitors?"

"We need to put effort into the website to make sure it's providing great value, great service, and it's unique.  I think we've learned our lesson there."

"But your job..."

"I'm going to get John and Martin on board.  They can make updates when they're not serving in the shop.  And I will check up on them at least once a week."

"You're very keen on this."

"Yes, I suppose I am.  Seeing what Hugh's done in the past, I can see us running a successful online business here."

Nancy asked if Kate had spoken to her husband John about the proposed developments.  Kate told her that she really wanted Nancy's agreement in principle first, and so Nancy agreed to go ahead with the idea as long as they had a manageable budget for search engine work, and if John was happy.

Hugh proposed a mixture of Google ads and what he called "natural search".  

Google ads appear on the right hand side of the search results whenever you conduct a search on Google, and sometimes at the top.  For your ad to appear, you must bid on a price per click - whether it's 10p or £1, it's your choice.  But you only pay when your ad is clicked.  You can make the ad appear for a number of different search phrases or partial phrases, and you can create different ads and watch how they convert into sales.  For example an ad that advertised your product as "cheap" may get lots of clicks but not generate any sales - so normally you will run diferent ads and compare their performance before whittling them down.

"Natural search" refers to all of the results that are not advertisements.  Google will quickly run through the web pages it knows that are relevant to the search phrase that has been typed, and compare them, for importance and relevance, before displaying them in an order derived from that comparison.  To become more important and relevant takes work on the website copy and structure, and looking at how other websites refer to and trust the website you're trying to promote.

Hugh proposed a sliding scale of costs, starting with a small dip into Google Ads to test the water.  At last Nancy was happy with the proposed costs and Kate spoke to John.

John was happy too, so the work began.

Can SEO be bad for your website?

18th September 2012
Categories: google, seo


Let's assume that search engines work for users - that is, the search engines have the best interests of users at heart. If I search for "Oxford Web Designers" I want links to the best web design companies in Oxford, and if I search for "Aylesbury Cheese Shop" I want a cheese shop in Aylesbury. The search engines want to understand this, and their no.1 priority is to provide this information, before bombarding me with ads and other services - because without the quality information, there is no core service around which to hang the ads and the subsidiary stuff. 

Some commentators would like you to believe that this is not the case, and cite good evidence, but in the case of Google, ultimately, the overwhelming evidence - over the last 14 years - is that they believe in this core service.

When you run a search on Google, its job is to return a list of web pages in some sort of order. And the order is a combination of relevance to the search phrase and importance.

It's mildly complicated for a computer to find out how relevant a page is; it's immensely difficult for a computer to rate one website above another. It's difficult enough for a human, and humans can normally make use of more information - for example in rating the BBC website I use the knowledge I have about the BBC's offline activities (TV, Radio and so on). I also happen to have worked for the BBC (as a temp at BBC Worldwide, in my youth!).

Google has very little to go on in comparison, but over the years has added many measures to its measuring toolkit (also called its "algorithm" by some). So for example Google will find out about:

  • how long your website has been around
  • how much content you are adding to your website
  • how other websites rate your website, and how important those websites are

These major measures of importance are not a secret, and that's where the problem lies, because there's a whole industry built around tricking Google into thinking their customers' websites are more important than they really are.

And when I say "tricking", I mean cheating, lying, and generally spamming the internet with a load of junk.

For example, there are SEO people who generate thousands of robot-built pages in order to trick Google into thinking that a website's content is growing. Or SEO people who generate fake websites linking to their customers' websites.

When search engine people say they use "white hat" techniques, by the way, what they mean is "black hat". Nobody actually admits to being "black hat".

What they're trying to tell you with the "hat" business is that they're wizards who employ magic (that's a warning sign already), and that they're techniques generally fall under Google's radar.

But Google generally finds them out - as we know from the "panda" and "penguin" updates. And your website rank will suffer as a result.


Search engine marketing, done right, identifies what people are searching for when they want to find your product and service, and how to make your website genuinely more relevant and important.

If you're doing it right, you are not going to suffer, because, as all the evidence suggests, Google is genuinely interested in promoting relevant and important websites.

A genuine search engine marketing company will help you to:

  • Analyse the market
  • Create relevant niche pages
  • Structure the information
  • Build genuine content and links

And your website rank will not fail to grow.

Think insights - what's in it for me?

15th May 2012
Categories: google

Google has released a new website called "Think Insights" ( which aims to keep the rest of us informed about trends in the digital world.

When you get there, you may be tempted to stare at it blankly and perhaps look a bit forlorn, just as early internet users did with search engines.

In fact it is a bit sparsely populated at the moment - but whatever your market, there is interesting and relevant stuff to be found.

Imagine we sell products online.  Click "research library", then "drive online conversion".  You get a series of whitepapers describing how different businesses used the internet and other media to achieve this.

Going mobile?  Click "planning tools" and "getMoMeter" to see how your site looks on a mobile device.

This site is not going to revolutionise your business overnight, but it's definitely one for bookmarking.

What are Keywords?

21st March 2012
Categories: google, keywords, seo

Customers often ask if they can amend the "keyword metatags" or add "keywords" to their website.

Keywords have traditionally meant:

1. Words or phrases which people type in to search engines in order to find your website.

2. The keywords meta-tag, a hidden part of your web page which lists a number of keywords (in the hope that search engines will read it and use it to put your website first in the list as a response to people searching using those keywords).

Unfortunately, having your site appear on page one for a keyword is completely unrelated to the keywords meta-tag.

Did I say unfortunately?

This is really quite fortunate, because it makes websites which are really about those keywords (or themes) look a lot better than websites which are not about those themes at all.

So for instance, if your website has a page about lemon trees, which goes into depth about how to cultivate them and how many different types there are, then those clever search engines will identify that page with the phrase 'lemon tree' (and all sorts of other related phrases).

Google won't get any clues from the keywords meta-tag.  In fact, it ignores the keywords meta-tag completely.

Here's a link to Google's article explaining that keyword meta-tags are completely ignored: google says keywords meta-tags are ignored.

So if you want to be no.1 for lemon trees, what do you need?

  • An interesting, readable page
  • Links to that page (preferably from a variety of sources)

Interestingly enough, there are meta-tags which are useful, particularly the 'description' meta-tag, which appears in the list of search results when your site comes up.  Use this to 'entice' people to your website.

For more info, search our website for 'seo'!

Just what is Google Play?

6th March 2012

Have you noticed how giant internet-busting corporations go around treading on each others' toes while explaining very carefully that they're innovating and addressing a bunch of needs to which surely no-one else has given any thought?

For example: Microsoft Silverlight (heard of it?) wasn't "the Bill Gates version of Flash" - it was a new technology for running rich, interactive applications and video in a web browser.

Google+ wasn't "the Google version of Facebook" - it was a great way to share stuff over the internet with your circles of friends.

Well now Google have released something called "Play", and yet again we have to figure out what it is, because they're not telling us plainly and simply that it's the Google version of the iTunes Music Store plus plus Apps plus Kindle.

Hang on... iTunes+LoveFilm+Apps+Kindle?  Just when you thought Google had done enough taking over the world.... is this a step too far?  Or is it simply a logical collection of media for storage and play?

Your comments welcome:

Google docs app - a game changer?

24th February 2012
Categories: google, phones

What can you do with your smart phone?  To realise the impact of modern phones we just need to step back in time just a little.  Last night my son was telling me that one big topic of conversation at school was "who's got what phone?".  Imagine the conversation 30 years ago:

"We've got a black bakelite speed dialler 1000."

"That's nothing, we've got one of those with buttons you push, instead of a dial."


Of course, with smart phones today you can access almost any kind of information from anywhere - encyclopaedias, maps, emails... - it's the stuff science fiction writers couldn't even imagine 40 or 50 years ago.

But what are we missing?

Would it be good if you could edit information?  If you could, perhaps, start a document or spreadsheet on your PC at work, and then when you're waiting for a meeting to start, make a quick edit on your phone, and without having to save or send the document back, it's ready to edit again in the office or at home, complete with your changes?

I'm not advocating working round the clock or not sometimes enjoying a moment of peace and quiet, but how often have you wished you had brought something with you when you hadn't, and suddenly you have time to do it?  This is one extra piece of the puzzle that lets you take everything with you!

Google have released an update for Google Docs for android, which I'm trying out as a write.  It brings the android phone in on  the docs world as more of a first class citizen, allowing you to see real time updates, and edit spreadsheets and word processing documents.  

If you have an android phone, you can download the app from the "marketplace".  If not, maybe it's time to upgrade?

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