What we can learn from a fairy tale

Do you know the famous fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel?  It’s one of the most famous tales of all time. The story was even made into an opera.  Not all tales can lay claim to that.

But sorry – no time for stories, this is about SEO; suffice to say that Hansel or Gretel, I don’t know witch, dropped breadcrumbs on the ground as they were walking into the forest, so they could find their way back more easily. (They had no GPS, I guess).  Smart, eh ?

Hansel + Gretel, Web Designers and SEO experts

Hansel + Gretel, Web Designers and SEO experts

The modern, web-related breadcrumb trail is a navigation tool which shows the website visitor where in the site hierarchy  (the clicking history) a currently displayed page is located. Often, for added user-friendliness, that page name is even highlighted.

Wikipedia describes breadcrumbs like this:

Breadcrumbs typically appear horizontally across the top of a web page, often below title bars or headers. They provide links back to each previous page the user navigated … to get to the current page or—in hierarchical site structures—the parent pages of the current one. Breadcrumbs provide a trail for the user to follow back to the starting or entry point. 

Sounds pretty scientific, but actually it’s simple, and can even be very helpful.  Let’s see how.

Let’s take, for example, a department store or furniture store website. You are now viewing a special product, having clicked all the way. The trail might then read:   Home > Products > Home Furnishings > Accessories > Picture Frames .

You get the picture.

Such a trail, which is basically just a path, has a number of advantages:

a) it’s user-friendly as it shows viewers where they came from and where they can go back to, so they don’t get lost (just like Hansel and Gretel!)

b) the trail can be configured as a link of links, which further increases user-friendliness, since the user can click directly on any step of the trail to get there directly (since each step serves as a shortcut to its relevant page), for example from Picture Frames straight to Products, without having to click the Back button or the need to locate other buttons, links, or drop-down lists. Neat, right ?

c) additionally however, breadcrumb trails are also SEO-friendly, especially if the individual steps are links, and if the links (dressed up as anchor texts!) are keyword-rich.

Wikipedia tells us that “some commentators criticize path-style breadcrumbs because they duplicate functionality that properly subsists in the browser; namely, the ‘Back’ button and browsing history. And unlike the ‘Back’ button, the breadcrumbs move around horizontally.”

But then, so what ?  Why should purism get in the way of logical visibility and user convenience ?

To sum up, breadcrumb trails tell users where they are at.  For Hansel and Gretel, they were lifesavers.  For website visitors, they are user-friendly indicators. And, better yet, they are search engine friendly, too.

To get even more mileage out of crumbs would be a modern fairy tale.

And if you had the patience to read all of the above, here is your reward:  the link to a short Hansel and Gretel video  [for all ages, and best watched with a cup of hot chocolate 🙂 ]


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Of Pandas, Penguins, and other Animals

Goodbye, link farms, mass submissions, Grade 6-style writing, and trashy link exchanges.

For years, many (many!) websites had ranked well and had great SERPs because they had perfected keyword-spamming and mass link exchanges. (That’s a bit of a simplification, but not by much). All this was, of course, violating some important Google  rules and guidelines, but what the heck:  today is today, and tomorrow never comes. So those “bad guys” lived well for a long time.  Or shall we say, on borrowed time. To be sure, many websites were totally White Hat and had nothing to fear.

But tomorrow did come. Rumor had it for months that Matt Cutts and the other boys from Google were planning to clamp down on websites that had been, ah, non-compliant with Big Brother’s wishes. And clamp down they did, as we all know by now. So they unleashed on us Panda and Penguin which is ironic, because those are cute animals.

The borders and exact timing of Operations Panda and Penguin are a bit blurry. They even overlapped partly, but it doesn’t matter.  Between February and early May, hundreds of thousands, probably millions of, ah, non-compliant websites got hit by the new Google algorithms, and as a consequence lost search result rankings, often dozens or hundreds of positions. Many of them slid into oblivion.

To quote an SEO specialist (Ernie Schwarcz), Panda and Penguin were the “Internet equivalent of a massive, internationally coordinated police raid, or a surprise missile strike”.  But this is no joking matter. These were some very sad and strenuous weeks for the web community.

So, what kind of SEO behavior did Google frown upon?  Of course, nobody will ever know for sure. Google keeps its algorithms close to the chest. But the consensus among SEO experts seems to be as follows:

a)  Irrelevant and / or bad quality backlinks
b)  Backlinks from link farms
c)  Paid backlinks
d)  Too many identical text (anchor) backlinks, which would suggest “unnatural linking”
e)  Doorway pages
f)  Keyword spamming
g)  Unnatural or irrelevant page content just for the sake of keyword accumulation
h)  Failure to deliver interesting and fresh content

There are almost certainly other issues as well, but the above probably covers over 90% of the territory.

Enough food for thought, I would have thought.

As a result of their police action, Google is perceived to be a trifle less glamorous now than a few months ago; no longer like a friendly grandpa but, say,  like a strict, perfectionist father. They come across as heavy-handed, and as judge and executioner in one; with many webmasters, they are about as popular right now as a Rabbi at a KKK meeting.

I am not reaping any benefits from Google for saying this, but it must be said they are not out to destroy the existing web community, but to build a “better” one (whatever this means). Alas, by bulldozing its path to improvement, Big Brother has left behind massive collateral damage. And the game isn’t over yet; even more changes are likely.

But, like it or not, Google calls the shots, and SEO consultants and other SEO people will have to play ball.

So what does Google want to achieve with letting loose Pandas and Penguins and later maybe Panthers, Pelicans, Parrots, Pigeons or Pigs ?  (Full disclosure:  2 out of these 5 P’s I had to google).

Well, in short, they want to create and foster a culture of websites which are informative, relevant, well written, naturally structured, and that aim to be genuinely liked by websites with similar themes, or by people on social networks .  Even shorter: sites that will give their visitors useful, up-to-date, well presented, easy to use and well respected content.

Phew.  Did I leave anything out?  Anyone out there?

Message to Matt Cutts:  Matt, if you read this, let us know when you’ll P next.

Dear Readers, I hope your site(s) didn’t get hit. Kudos to all those who were in compliance. But what to do if you did because you weren’t?

That’ll be the topic of the next article.  Stay put. And after this heavy topic, you may now visit the Chill Out page to relax.  And BTW, I wonder if I put the penguins there because they are associated with chill, or if they are, as a consequence of the Google Penguin, a Freudian slip on my part.

Footnote:  Readers are encouraged to follow this blog on Twitter and LinkedIn and request regular newsletters by email.  Really nice followers can contact me, via LinkedIn, for some  free web design and SEO advice  (within reason …).