Googlebot

While I commend Adobe for its recent efforts to help engines index textual content locked in Flash, I have issues with the new "SEO Technology Center."

For example, the following video by one of Adobe's Senior Technology Evangelists states that tv.adobe.com "...rises to the top of the heap in the Google..." for [Duanes World] thanks to Adobe's new headless Flash player technology "Ichabod." According to Adobe's Evangelist, "Duane" could only be visible to Googlebot by having Ichabod change states in the Flash file, therefore exposing "Duane" as textual content. Unfortunately this is not correct as the cached version of the page from Google's SERP states "These terms only appear in links pointing to this page".

As shown in the Google SERP, "Duane" appears to Googlebot only in links pointing at tv.adobe.com and not in the Flash file as the video claims. Using the advanced "site:" operator to search for [Duane] within tv.adobe.com shows a number of pages with links pointing to AdobeTV using "Duane" as anchor text. Because these links use #anchors (fragment identifiers) which Googlebot ignores, in URLs, Google "credits" keyword relevancy to the root instead of the intended target URL.

As a result of this misallocation, tv.adobe.com ranks for [Duanes World]. Just as keyword relevancy is being misallocated in this case, so is PageRank as illustrated by the URL PR9 when compared with the Flash PR8. In fact, the SERP TITLE and snippet aren't from AdobeTV but rather DMOZ. To see this compare "Adobe TV" as seen in the SERP with "AdobeTV" seen on the page by users with Flash and JavaScript enabled. This is due to AdobeTV's use of dynamic JavaScript TITLE elements in (X)HTML.

With on page factors out of the way, as a side note it's also worth mentioning that the search engine results page in Adobe's video is based on the user's prior search history, while logged into a Google Account and Searchwiki appears to be activated. These personalization settings can all act to throw off the data in such an experiment.

This post isn't intended to bash Adobe but rather to point out some critical errors in their research. Please don't get me wrong, I'm a huge fan of Adobe and have been for years. I think they make great products and appreciate all of the hard work done by Adobe's team of Evangelists. I understand that Adobe Evangelists are experts at Flash but, when it comes to SEO for Flash and interpreting Google SERPs, wish people wouldn't take their opinions blindly as being fact.

For the handful of us with expertise in SEO for Flash, it's a little awkward having to tell clients that Adobe's information isn't entirely correct. Either way, it would be nice to see more research as well as accurate and up-to-date information in Adobe's SEO Technology Center. It would also be great to see some of these best practices implemented at tv.adobe.com.

Google "Universal" has placed increased emphasis on image results. Prior to Google Universal, users viewed search results one vertical at a time. Now days, users have options and access to search results from across key Google verticals all within their main search engine results pages. The Google internal video below illustrates in real-time how one eye-tracking study participant migrates between verticals within universal SERPs.

This migration between vertical search results may explain Google's introduction of Image Ads. In addition to ads, Google Images offers more options than ever before. Users can search for images by size or in a variety of content types including news, faces, clip art, line drawings and photo content categories. While a lot has changed when it comes to image optimization, users still enter text queries for Google to translate into image results. For that reason, linguistics is still critical when it comes to image optimization. Images are indexed in ways similar to text but have their own flavor of PageRank.

Before diving into the finer points of advanced image optimization, let's see if the basics are still valid. In terms of basic image optimization best practices, the rule of thumb is to provide as much descriptive information about images as is possible, but without "keyword stuffing" which could cause your site to be perceived as spam. Focus on including images with relevant textual context. Be sure to provide hypertextual clues about the subject matter of pages where images appear. With images like everything else the key concept is relevancy when it comes to search. Again, image results are based on textual queries.

Basic Image Optimization Best Practices:

- Informative filenames provide important signals about images and/or their subject matter. For that reason it's best to incorporate descriptive wording into image file names. (IE beach-dog.jpg instead of 1.jpg) (Hint - In some cases, image filenames may be used as the snippet in SERPs.)

- ALT attributes provide users and engines alike, with textual information about image subject matter. Engines rely heavily on the structure present in hypertext, especially where images are concerned. It's best to always incorporate short but descriptive ALT attributes when using images. ALT attributes assist engines in determining the most relevant result for image specific keyword queies.

Basic Image Optimization Case Study Experiment:

To determine whether or not images ranking for the query used in Google's eye tracking study above, follow basic image optimization best practices.

Procedure:
To examine the hypertext structure related to images appearing in Google Universal search results for the query [how to tie a tie] and record observations related to basic image optimization.

Result:
Image A -
URL =
http://www.how-to-tie-a-tie-video.com/images/how-to-tie-a-tie-wind_1.jpg
ALT = "How to tie a necktie video"

Image B -
URL = http://www.tieking.com.au/images/hw.gif
ALT =""

Image C -
URL = http://www.jitterbuzz.com/esquire/tietie_big.jpg
ALT = "Tying the Tie"

Conclusion:
Two of three images in this case study have descriptive file names in conjunction with descriptive ALT attributes. In addition to file names and ALT attributes, there seem to be other key factors to consider when optimizing images. As Google states, "other factors" do seem to come into play based on the results of this case study.

Advanced Image Optimization:

It's important to note that Google uses crawl caching proxy techniques to make images available in other services and that Google doesn't index images directly. As a result, there is no need to include images in your XML Sitemap. Either way, quality images start with quality pages. Quality pages contain few errors and load quickly. In order to decrease load time for pages, focus on template images that appear in every page (navigational images, logos and/or other). When possible, consider converting static GIFs into PNGs. When using GIFs, be certain palette sizes are correct based on the number of colors in the image. For JPEGs use a lossless tool to like Photoshop to remove unnecessary information from your file unless it's important for users and/or search (see Exif below). Always define image sizes via (X)HTML by size and not scale and be sure to include a favicon for branding, bookmarking and to avoid 404s. These steps will help decrease load time and increase page quality.

Once quality has been addressed from a technical perspective, it's important to be sure URL paths aren't blocked by JavaScript, Flash, Robots.txt and/or other obstacles. Images, like text can be scraped and republished multiple times. To assist engines in identifying your images as "source images", provide as much information as possible via hypertext, metadata and link structure in your pages. When using Flash, always provide alternative images with static URLs in GIF, JPEG and/or PNG format otherwise Google won't display images from Flash in SERPs. As a webmaster, you may have little control over external anchor text but you can control internal anchor text within your site. Be certain internal anchor text for images is descriptive and relevant. For some images (ie product image in category page, video, other) you may want to use thumbnails with unique ALT attributes and create detail level (product, video, other) pages. Provide quality images in a variety of sizes and formats including JPEG when possible and allow others to use your images.

Place high quality images high up and above the fold if possible. When necessary create unique static detail pages linked via thumbnail. Don't prevent other sites from using your images even if it means loosing bandwidth. Posting and tagging sample images at other sites can help get more eyes on your images, but be sure to include links to your site as the objective isn't to donate content to social media sites.

"Google analyzes the text on the page adjacent to the image, the image caption and dozens of other factors to determine the image content. Google also uses sophisticated algorithms to remove duplicates and ensure that the highest quality images are presented first in your results."

- http://www.google.com/help/faq_images.html

Always provide textual content in close proximity to images. Obviously, at this point it's worth pointing out again that image accessibility is of paramount importance. In addition, TITLE elements, captions and image titles in your pages can provide important clues for search engines. When it comes to search, more data is better data so consider taking the extra time to include as much as possible while avoiding techniques that could be detected as an attempt to spam search engines. Be sure to place your images near or above relevant text in pages and always include descriptive captions. Don't embed textual content within vector graphic formats other than .pdf as engines can't extract text from other image formats. Fresh images accessible in various sizes are a good idea but be sure to define image length and width information via hypertext as well as for users. Enable Google Image Labeler via "Enhanced Image Search" in Google webmaster tools. While PNG is more optimal than GIF in terms of load speed, certain circumstance may require image metadata contained in JPEG. Consider a file structure for images that denotes individual directories for thumbnails, art, drawings, photos and/or other. Be sure not to mix Adult images with images for general audiences.

The Future of Image Optimization:

In terms of the future of image optimization, all signs seem to point to Exif. The Exif file format for image metadata is one specification used by digital cameras and was developed nearly 10 years ago. Exif metadata includes information such as the date and time an image were captured. When set properly, modern digital cameras record the date and time images were captured and this information is recorded in image Exif metadata associated with image files. In addition to date and time, digital cameras record image metadata pertaining to the camera's manufacturer, model, orientation, aperture setting, shutter speed, focal length of image, meter mode, ISO speed information, a preview thumbnail and copyright information.

So, what does any of the information in Exif have to do with SEO for images you ask? Well, Exif can also be used to record information about where images were taken and whether or not they've been "photoshopped" for example. For images or universal queries related to news or specific geographic areas, Exif could easily be used as a quality signal. I asked Matt Cutts about Google's use of Exif last year and his reply was "I'm not sure, personally. I could imagine that any stuff embedded in an image file might be used, though." Currently both Panoramio and Picasa use Exif and I'd expect to see this trend rise as new GPS enabled devices enter the market.

For more great information, check out Peter Linsley's latest post on the Google Webmaster Central Blog...

There have been a number of recent posts focused on link building and finding quality inbound links. In addition to those better known sites offering non-nofollowed link love, here are some other examples you may not have noticed.

  • Blogger - The new "Blogs I Follow" feature doesn't seem to nofollow outbound links.
  • Google Notebook - Google's notebook is still nofollow free from direct inbound links...
  • Google Panoramio (photos in Google Maps/Earth) - is a good place for links but you'll need a little content.
  • Google Profiles - one place to find all your social network and blog links.
  • Google Knol - In case you missed it, once you've achieved "trusted" author status, the juice follows!
  • Facebook - That's right, it seems as though some search savvy marketers have been using Facebook's "closed" social network for open link love. The example above changes frequently but you'll see what I mean in short order...
  • Twitter - Have you noticed Twitter's mobile pages in SERPs recently? They seem to be passing PageRank...
  • Pownce - Despite extinction, Pownce appears to be the gift that keeps giving in 2009!
  • MyBlogLog - A personal favorite that gives a little link love to users.

HAPPY NEW YEAR to you all and remember to link safely in 2009!