Katinka has raised some important interlinking questions about how recent changes at Squidoo are impacting SEO of our lenses. We don’t have all the answers — are these changes temporary or permanent? — but I’ve been pondering interlinking alternatives.
One important method of interlinking on Squidoo is, or was, Squidoo tags.
Fluff explained how Squidoo tag pages work on his SquidUtils blog back in ’09. Squidoo tags sit in our lens sidebar and point to a tags page. For example, here’s Squidoo’s lenses on pirate costumes. That tags page lists all the lenses sharing that tag, including a brief excerpt of the introduction of each lens. If all the lenses are relevant to a topic, and their introduction text reinforces that topic, then, presumably, the tags page acts as a relevant backlink. But if it’s an orphaned tag shared by few or no other lenses, then the tag page may not matter much: it looks really empty, and I don’t see much relevant link juice.
In the past, I’ve occasionally seen Squidoo tag pages appear in Google search results.
Now, the tags pages appear to be unimportant to Google.
It’s hard to explain, so open a spare tab and follow along the steps I took to uncover the problem.
First, Google the following to see how Squidoo pages are typically listed in Google results:
Squidoo birthday party ideas
Squidoo 2011 goals
You’ll see some Squidoo results. Notice they have a “Cached” link next to them. If you click on the cache, you see what Google has stored about that lens. That’s what it will refer to when it’s trying to decide, “So, do I list this page in the search results for ‘weevils in my wheaties’? Ah yes, it’s mentioning weevils and wheaties. Add it to the SERPs.”
So, that’s what normal Google results look like, and that’s what a Google “cache” of a webpage looks like. You can jump straight to the cached version, as I mentioned last post, by Googling something like:
However, something weird happens when I Google Squidoo tag pages. Try Googling the following highly specific search:
allinurl:squidoo tags birthday party ideas
allinurl:squidoo tags 2011 goals
If you get that specific, the search results are Squidoo tag pages. However, the “Cached” option isn’t showing up.
Or try going straight to Google’s cache of a Squidoo Tags page:
When we do this with a regular Squidoo lens, we’d see Google’s facsimile of the lens. But for Squidoo tag pages, we just get a generic Google search listing. It appears that there is no Google cache of these pages, just the blurb/snippet Google displays in search results. I think we have a bona-fide sighting of the Google Supplemental Index!
Google supplemental index results are worth diddly squat for SEO. Links from them don’t count as backlinks. They lurk in the supplemental index like orphaned socks at the back of the drawer: Google knows they exist, but if you ask it to give you a pair of black socks, it won’t bother to mention them unless you specifically tell Google, “No, really, I want the orphaned black sock you’re not telling me about.” Does this mean the interlinking method Fluff described is now obsolete? Are Squidoo tag pages dead?
Even more interestingly, I found a new, different form of Squidoo tag page that is showing in some Google results. Namely: the tags on your lensmaster profile. Click on one of them, and it filters your lenses down to show all of those sharing a tag.
For example, let’s Google greekgeek greek mythology quiz. Look at result #2 (at least, that’s what it is on Scroogle). That’s my lensmaster profile filtered by a particular tag. And it is cached.
I’m still trying to understand the SEO implications of this change. I think that it is yet another profound way that Squidoo has pruned its underlying site navigation and interlinking structure as far as search engines are concerned.
If Squidoo Tag Pages such as Fluff described have been tossed into the Supplemental Index, then they no longer help SEO. In that case, nichebuilding becomes extremely important– creating a batch of lenses which are interlinked by a common tag on your lensmaster profile– and it no longer helps or matters whether you choose tags used by other lensmasters. (Nor does it help other lensmasters much to snitch your tags.)
EXCEPT that Squidoo tags are used in two other, less important ways. They help determine the order of results when you use Squidoo’s on-site search, which is only used by a minority of Squidoo visitors but yields at least some traffic. And they determine which lenses show up in the Discovery Box in the sidebar of every lens. The Discovery Box option helps only if there’s lots of members like me who prefer not to fill the Discovery Box with their own lenses, and give other interesting, relevant lenses a chance to show up.
But again, unless I’m misinterpreting what Google’s showing me, it appears that standard Squidoo Tag Pages have died as far as SEO is concerned.
It seems to fit the pattern: in the last few months we’ve lost Squidcasts, Lensroll, and Favorites, eliminating our social bookmarking ways of finding other people’s lenses, and had Featured Lenses / My Lenses modules and tag pages hamstrung so they no longer allow search engines to find other lenses. I see the pattern, but I don’t grasp the purpose.
Yet another fascinating article Ellen. I think it would be helpful for you to have an exchange with Fluff about this, as out of all the people connected with, and those directly working for, Squidoo it seems to me that he is the only one who has a good understanding of the way Google works and what does and not work on Squidoo lenses as far as SEO is concerned AND is willing to discuss it.
However, as he has not been seen around for awhile, and it is the school holidays here, methinks he is probably on vacation.
I would like to raise one point that you make. Sadly, much as I would like to leave space for three lenses that are not my own on the Discovery Module, like many of our Squidoo friends and colleagues, I do not.
This is because at least one Lensmaster has harvested my keywords in order to make a directly competing lens (Statcounter shows him on my lenses at the time he did it) and I could not bear it if any of his crap lenses appeared on my lenses.
And from comments made on SquidU I know it has happened to others too.
So perhaps one of the reasons that Squidoo is removing the “power of tags” is because they are well aware of the tactics being used by some less than “nice” Lensmasters. Who knows?
In this case at least I can find no indication that this is done on Squidoo’s side. The tag pages are not excluded from being indexed through the robots.txt file, nor is there a no-index tag on the tag pages themselves. Also: links ON the tag pages are in ordinary HTML, so Google sees them.
However, it’s clear Google has decided they’re not important. That’s unwelcome news of course. Still, there’s good reason to think they ARE seen and used by BING.
Note too that if tags don’t matter (I’m not convinced they don’t btw), squidoo categories have become VERY important.
Fluff will know. May tug on him when he gets back, assuming he doesn’t see this post anyway.
And you’re quite right about categories. A pity they’ve turned into such a mess so fast.
Added to say that I just search for a tag page through google simply by typing the title of that tag plus the site name: ‘a definition of education squidoo’ (without the quotes). For me the tag page DOES show up, if I Click ‘more’, but without the cache as Greekgeek rightly says.
This tells me that the pages are definitely seen by Google, though it does look like something of a supplemental index. I can’t blame Google for that: tag pages are as much duplicate content as any scraped page. There’s a reason SEO’s tend to want to be able to add a description to a tag page on their blogs (but that’s off topic).
Yeah, it’s the supplemental index thing that surprised me. I wasn’t entirely sure it still existed — this is the first example I’ve seen of it in several years. Tag pages didn’t used to be in it.
And you’re right; the value of their backlink is somewhat limited. So there is a certain sense in demoting them. It still feels a little alarming having so many interlinking routes disappearing at once.
This is an interesting observation, one that I don’t have an explanation for. I can find nothing in Squidoo’s code that could make this happen.
One comment I would make though is this: just because Google isn’t showing cache: links for the tag pages doesn’t mean that those links aren’t counted for ranking porpoises (sic).
Incidentally, there are some tag pages still in Google’s cache.
Ahhh, I’m glad you’re able to get around to this. Thank you, Tim.
So it’s Google’s choice, not code, that’s deprecating more tag pages now than before. Iiinnteresting.
I think this is fascinating.
First, I’ll clarify that we had nothing to do with this change, although for years in the past we explicitly blocked crawling of tag pages because we believed search engines might not find them particularly valuable. With this change, it seems that Google agrees and is finally smart enough to do something about it.
SEOs talk about indexing and ranking….
Do tag pages help with indexing? It’s possible, although there are probably more efficient ways to help Googlebot discover each important page on the site, given that there are 10mm or more unique tags and lenses could be on multiple tag results pages. Googlebot only crawls a certain number of pages per day, and I’d much rather them spend time on content-rich pages than simple lists of lenses. In addition, sitemaps and other cues ensure that Googlebot already has plenty of direction. There are no indications of indexing problems on Squidoo.
Do tag pages help with ranking? Years ago, I believe that internal links carried significant weight in Google’s algorithm. However, there are many more signals that Google uses these days, and the quantity of internal inbound links simply doesn’t seem very relevant anymore. Google seems to be saying: enough with the indexes, show us more of the content.
If you are interested in the current state of SEO, I recommend exploring SEOmoz’s 2011 Search Engine Ranking Factors Report.