Sunday, March 1, 2009

Don't focus on beauty, focus on function: Adam Lasnik, Google

The Google India Searchmasters 2009, held today at RMZ Infinity on Old Madras Road presented an excellent opportunity to interact with Googlers and learn more their work.

The gathering of webmasters, bloggers, and other search engine optimization (SEO) specialists made the event memorable. It is rare to find so many Googlers in India interacting with this community, but then, this conference aimed to change that! And it did!!

Presenters ranged from Adam Lasnik, Google's first Search Evangelist, Koti Ivaturi, Strategist in Google's Search Quality Team, Dr. Rajat Mukherjee, Group Product Manager who is working on Google's Custom Search platform, Ankit Gupta, who is working on making mobile products discoverable and accessible, to Deepak Kumar from the Google Analytics team, who also works on Google's Website Optimizer.

The photo shows Google's Adam Lasnik making his presentation!

Of course, there were Vivaik Bharadwaaj, manager of Google's Search Quality Evaluation team in India and Korea, and product manager, Alok Goel. Both were responsible for putting together this event in India, for the first time ever! Kudos, guys!

Bharadwaaj set the tone, stating Google's desire to build a strong relationship with the Indian webmasters' community. He touched upon some of Google's India specific initiatives, such as Orkut, India Corporate Blog, Google Bus (which has just been launched in Tamil Nadu), Transliteration Tool, Mobile Search, Onscreen Keyboard, Webmasters' Forum, and now, Searchmasters!

Speaking on Webmaster Central and Best Practices, Adam Lasnik highlighted three areas for best practices: discovery, accessibility and promotion. Google's guiding principles are fairness, effectiveness and stability. Google's tools and blogs are its two key resources.

How to get good links?
Commenting on good links, he said those were essentially from trustworthy, relevant and from choosy resources. These links are similar to votes that are given consciously.

There are ways your website can get good links. First, create a notable site with original and compelling content. [Wow, I just did a check on Google for my other blog, and received a whopping 4,950 results! Hope I am on the right track!] Next, participate thoughtfully in communities. Also, make your page easy to share and link to.

"Don't focus on beauty, focus on function," Lasnik advised. "Content is really the foundation." Be original, by having your own information and commentary. Make that content compelling, especially the kind that people would be willing to share with others. Also, make that content accessible.

Website accessibility tips and tricks
First, make sure that your web page or website is accessible to both users and to Google. Ensure that all of the pages load and that users can navigate the site successfully. There is a need to ensure that everyone can see what's available on each page. Most importantly, everyone should be able to understand the content provided.

It helps when users are able to bookmark their favorite pages and also share pages with others. They should also be able to transact appropriately on the website as well. "The most important thing here is TEXT," stressed Lasnik. "Your core content and navigation should be in text," he advised.

Lasnik further provided some tips for testing accessibility. One, access your site with different browsers -- a golden tip, most webmasters generally overlook! Next, make sure that you not only browse the website but also transact! Also, have your colleagues explore and complete specific tasks on your website. "Ensure that people and search engines understand what your web pages are all about," he added.

Moving on to page titles, he advised the webmasters to create title tags that are brief, descriptive and compelling. Good titles are specific to the page. You can also consider adding the organization's name. However, care should be taken that the title tags are phrase based, and not a sentence!

Those of you who aren't doing it yet: make the most of your website's images! "Use Alt text, and use descriptive filenames," said Lasnik. Describe the image appropriately in plain text as well. A key note: be kind to other web users and optimize your images!

Some next steps
It is important that searchmasters and webmasters make their web pages discoverable. "Ensure that your site has an HTML sitemap. Add an XML sitemap as well," advised Lasnik.

Next, help users to access and understand your content. Create descriptive and distinct title tags. Annote all images with appropriate Alt text, and all media, with thoughtful surrounding text.

Touching on keyword density, he said that was not something Google really looked at! He added that keyword stuffing actually violated webmaster guidelines. According to Wikipedia, keyword stuffing is considered to be an unethical search engine optimization (SEO) technique. It occurs when a web page is loaded with keywords in the meta tags or in content.

Tackling copied content from your sites
Most bloggers and leading Web sites are plagued with their content being copied by others on to other web sites or even blogs. In fact, I myself spend some time on the Web searching for copied content from my blogs. Well, there's really nothing much I can do about that!

When posed this question, Lasnik referred to bloggers and web sites making use of the DMCA or The Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

As per Wikipedia, The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is a United States copyright law that implements two 1996 treaties of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). It criminalizes production and dissemination of technology, devices, or services intended to circumvent measures (commonly known as Digital Rights Management or DRM) that control access to copyrighted works and it also criminalizes the act of circumventing an access control, whether or not there is actual infringement of copyright itself. In addition, the DMCA heightens the penalties for copyright infringement on the Internet.

Google Webmaster tools -- see your site like Google sees it!
Koti Ivaturi drew everyone's attention to Google's Webmaster Help Forum. He urged Webmasters to use these tools so that they can see their own sites as Google does!

He referred to the sitemap tools as well, which provide links to tools and code snippets that allow you to generate sitemap files. Google has recently added the Webmaster Help Forum, a new platform.

In the next post, I will discuss the salient points needed to design your site for mobile phones. In fact, Google seems to have a great solution, using the GWT (Google Web transcoder!

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