September and October have been eyebrow raising months for the SEO community and the blogs are going nuts. As you know a bunch of algorithm updates have occurred that may affect many sites and search queries. They make it seem like the SEO-Apocalypse is upon us. But should you be nervous when these updates come out? I think not.
…Panda update that impacts 2.4% of English search queries and is still rolling out
Holy shitballs that sounds scary. Will my site be impacted negatively? Should I hire an SEO consultant tomorrow to prevent the impending doom? All signs point to no, (unless you want to hire me of course).
All websites are designed for the end user. The end user should be able to find everything easily and access your content easily. Google has made it abundantly clear that SEO is about merging the end user experience with a machine readable experience. Google tries it’s best to mimic the end user experience in algorithms. Chances are that if your end user is having a lovely time on your site then Google also agrees.
Of course we are talking general terms here. It goes without saying that you should also make sure meta descriptions are present, you are using the proper HTML markup, etc etc. Just about all SEO related changes you can make for a website is to help Google understand what the user experience is all about. If you have lots of incoming links from quality sites, then guess what, the end user experience must be great at your site. If you tend to write articles about hot topics and include keyword friendly titles then chances are you will get more traffic. (Hint: This article’s title is both amusing and SEO friendly)
So why all the doom and gloom from SEO blogs? Fear of the SEO-Apocalypse brings pageviews, so blogs about SEO will write about them in nauseating detail. Don’t get me wrong, I like to be in the know when an algorithm update hits and you should be aware as well. But as it turns out, there are a lot of websites out there doing shady shit. Those websites will lose their traffic and then complain on SEO blogs as if they are innocent victims. If you are buying links (It’s not hard to understand that this is a paid article), exchanging links with crappy sites, light on content and heavy on ads, or trying to game Google then your site will be hit by these updates. There are a lot of terrible sites out there and Google will (hopefully) eventually weed them all out.
That is why we should look forward to a major Google update because chances are that it will help you rank higher. If you run a respectable site and follow the rules and concentrate on the end user experience then you have nothing to worry about. Occasionally a respected site is hit negatively by an SEO update and those are usually rectified. Nobody’s perfect.
Now, are there gray areas in terms of an algorithm update? Of course. Does Google just so happen to release updates that seem to favor their own properties and lead to more revenue? Probably. Does Google violate it’s own best practices by cramming 5 ads above the fold for many searches? You bet.
But the truth is that none of that should matter to you. Stick to the user experience. Stick to producing good content. Stick to making sure Google is able to properly crawl and present content in search results and you will be fine.
The web is a mighty big place and the fantasy sports market has grown by leaps and bounds over the past 5 years. All of that growth spawned many sites that have come and gone, in the news one day and no where to be found 6 months later. Some of today’s best fantasy sites are having record traffic numbers, and for good reason, because they provide incredible fantasy insight.
What people often forget about, is the technology behind these sites. Are fantasy sports sites up to date using the latest technology and do they spend time optimizing the sites for speed? I will be tackling the latter category in this blog post: speed. The speed at which a website loads is a huge factor in end user satisfaction. Below you will find the best known names in fantasy sports news and I will compare them to the big boys to see how they stack up in speed. As most of you know by now, I developed a site called FantasySP and will also show you how FantasySP compares to these sites in terms of speed.
In order to test each website’s performance, I will be using Firebug 1.7.2 with YSlow 2.1.0 under Firefox 4.0.1. I will load each site’s homepage with advertisements shown and advertisements blocked (using AdBlock Plus). I will also be using Pingdom’s Site Speed tool to test load times. This should give a fair comparison on the speed of each site.
Rotoworld needs no introduction as it is the premier site when it comes to fantasy news and analysis. However, does the same hold true when it comes to page speed and size?
With advertisements shown, you see 228 HTTP requests and a size of almost 2 meg on initial page load. Your second page load has 212 HTTP requests and 104k in size. Without a question, they do a terrible job at optimizing their site for speed.
Without advertisements, loading Rotoworld has 214 HTTP requests and around 1.8 meg in size. The second pageload is at 202 HTTP requests and page size is about 40k. Blocking advertisements at Rotoworld will save you a little bit of time, but not much since their site is in desperate need of optimization.
Perhaps the second biggest name when it comes to fantasy news is Rotowire. Are they any better when it comes to load times?
Rotowire has 165 HTTP requests and the size of the page is 1.6meg with advertisements. Second pageload will see 134 HTTP requests and around 150k in size. Slightly better than Rotoworld, but still quite poor.
Without advertisements Rotowire has 103 HTTP requests at 1.3 meg in size. The second pageload has 88 HTTP requests and 70k in size. Rotowire has room for improvement, but it seems most of the extra requests and bloat come in the form of advertisements.
kffl is another top fantasy news site in the industry, perhaps they can do a better job when it comes to speeds?
As you can see HTTP requests with advertisements are at 97 and the size of the page is around 1 meg. Second page load shows 88 HTTP requests and 75k in size. So far kffl does a much better job in terms of speeding up the site and minimizing requests and size of the page.
Pingdom Load Time: 10 seconds. (Why 10 seconds? My guess is that their server isn’t as expensive as the other two and they are in desperate need of a CDN to help with load time)
RotoInfo isn’t a huge name, but Fanball is no more and these guys were the only other ones I could come up with for good fantasy analysis and news. So let’s have a look at how they perform.
Initial page load with advertisements has 158 HTTP requests and weighs in at a hefty 3.2 meg. Second page load has 46 HTTP requests and 80k in size. Looks like we have a new winner for total page size thanks to their enormous added size in images.
With advertisements blocked, it has 147 HTTP requests at 3.1 meg. Second page load has 35 HTTP requests at 72k. They are pretty much as bad as Rotoworld and Rotowire.
Looking at the past 4 fantasy news websites, it is blatantly obvious that these guys aren’t the best when it comes to speeding up their sites. kffl is the best at keeping HTTP requests down and page size low, but that didn’t seem to translate to a fast page. Rotoworld, Rotowire, and RotoInfo are remarkably bad at utilizing modern techniques to make sure their sites are as fast as they can be. Some are lacking a CDN, others are riddled with too many HTTP requests, and most have both problems. All of these things are fixable, and I urge them to fix these problems.
So you might be wondering, how does FantasySP fit in all of this? FantasySP was built from the ground up to be fast. It was built because I wanted a centralized location to keep an eye on player news and manage my fantasy teams. What FantasySP does is grab news from your favorite fantasy sites (listed above), blogs, and newspapers and presents the information to you as fast as possible. When you read something interesting, you head over to the source site to get the full scoop.
Before I show you how fast FantasySP is, let me show you how fast ESPN and CBSSports are since they are the best in the business with an unlimited budget.
ESPN is one of the premier sports sites on the internet and they have recently undergone a major redesign. Perhaps they need to show us how to create a speedy website?
With advertisements, ESPN has 88 HTTP requests and weighs in at 800k. The second page load has 26 HTTP requests with 62k in size. Clearly, these guys know what they are doing.
Without advertisements, ESPN has 76 HTTP requests and is 674k in size. The second page load has 15 HTTP requests and 60k in size. They do a fantastic job at minimizing HTTP requests, making sure the size of the page is small, and utilizing a CDN. Even with their embedded video on the front page and interactive scoreboard, their site does a fantastic job at keeping things speedy. Perhaps the only thing they could do to further improve things is to create a CSS sprite for some of their images.
Pingdom Load Time: 2.5 seconds. (Using the best techniques with the best hardware results in super fast load times, no surprise there)
How does CBSSports compare to ESPN? Let’s find out.
CBSSports has 51 HTTP requests with 700k in total size with advertisements. Second page load has 10 HTTP requests at 48k in size. These are extremely impressive numbers considering they have advertisements shown.
I’ve talked a lot about load times and speed, so hopefully my site runs more like ESPN and CBSSports and less like Rotoworld. Let’s find out:
With advertisements FantasySP has 55 HTTp requests at 358k in size. On the second page load, 25 HTTP requests at 42k in size. Clearly one of the best sites in terms of HTTP requests and the smallest in size. This sounds great, but keep in mind that some of the other sites such as ESPN, CBSSports, and Rotoinfo have a richer user experience by including videos and/or interactive scoreboards. This is the main reason why I am able to keep page size so small.
Without advertisements FantasySP has 38 HTTP requests at 241k in size. On the second pageload there are 9 HTTP requests with 29k in size. When it comes to reading fantasy news, the end user might prefer FantasySP over any other fantasy site listed here based on speeds alone. In fact, new signups to FantasySP get advertisements disabled to speed up their experience and they are replaced with Player Trends. Hows that for enticing?
So What’s Your Point?
The point of this whole post is to inform sites in the fantasy news space to spend the time to improve the user experience. The size of your homepage should not be near 3 meg in size with 150+ HTTP requests. Your products and news are great, and all you need are some fine tuning. Major sports sites like ESPN and CBSSports are highly optimized and well oiled machines. There is no reason why Rotowire, Rotoworld, Kffl, and RotoInfo can’t follow their lead. I am a HUGE fan of these sites and FantasySP would not exist without them, so please use what I’ve talked about in this post and improve your sites.
Questions? Comments? Glaring mistakes? Please let me know.
UPDATE: Here is a handy spreadsheet with speed data. Light green denotes best performing, dark green good performing, orange is bad performing.
UPDATE #2: As per request, I’ve taken a look at DraftSharks. They have also been added to the spreedsheet above.
DraftSharks with advertisements has 80 HTTP Requests at 1.1 meg in size. The second pageload has 6 HTTP Requests and 38k. This puts DraftSharks on par or better than kffl. Completely respectable job optimizing the site for speed. Much like all the other sites, if they combined js files and created a CSS sprite then HTTP requests would be even lower. It also wouldn’t hurt if they looked into a CDN solution if it fits in their budget.
Without advertisements DraftSharks have 79 HTTP requests at 1.1 meg. Second page load has 5 HTTP Requests at 38k. Not much of a difference, mainly because most of their ads aren’t blocked by default by AdBlock Plus.
Pingdom Page Load: 7.2 seconds. (The pageload slowdown is likely due to Pingdom adding 80 or so EXTRA images that I did not see based on my testing.)
The average blog post is fairly easy to index and crawl for Google. However, what happens when a single page has several hundred comments? How does Google decide what’s important to include in a search query and what to ignore? Heck, in some cases the comments on a Reddit post are more important than the actual summary of the article submission itself.
A lot of websites have been adding a voting aspect to comments for some time now. However, no search engine (as far as I know), looked into taking these votes into account when crawling. I propose a new type of “rich snippet” syntax for Google, Comment Syntax.
What if websites included the syntax so Google could not only clearly identify comments, but quickly pick the most popular/useful comments to showcase in certain search queries. This could be applied to sites such as Digg, Reddit, Yahoo Answers, Stackoverflow, and just about any WordPress blog.
Google has announced that they have implemented Soft 404’s as a way to indicate pages that appear to be 404 (page not found) but come up as 200 (Good Response). My initial reaction was that’s great news and should help me out when I forgot to include a 404 header response. So then I went to webmaster tools to have a look.
One example of a Soft 404, according to Google, is this news page about A.J. Burnett of the Yankees. This is interesting for two reasons, 1) This page is 683 days old, 2) It is definitely NOT a 404 page and has relevant content. I have about 50 or so of these pages that I think are incorrectly identified as Soft 404’s.
Though, perhaps I didn’t have enough content on the page about Burnett and need a bit more information for Google. How about a page that shows all the news collected for Joseph Addai in September 2009? This too is an example of a Soft 404.
Does Google not like the fact that I show/hide content and only list the first few items by default? Even if they didn’t like how it’s displayed, why would it be listed as a Soft 404?
I am sure many of you have similar situations popping up on your sites as well. At first glance Soft 404’s sounded great, but in actuality they need a LOT of work in the accuracy department.
Finally an advanced Google keyword ranking checker that is free. The site is aptly named KeywordRankings and is geared towards SEO people looking to save a history of where their keywords rank in Google.
Entire Service is free
Add unlimited domains
Add unlimited keywords
Each keyword ranking is checked once per day
Each domain is checked for index’d pages in Google once per day.
Graphs are created for each keyword’s history and domain’s index’d history.
A public secure and sharable link is provided for each keyword to show clients.
Available for google.com, google.co.uk, google.ca, google.dk, google.es, google.it.
Keyword Queue Ranking decides in what order your keywords get updated.
The site is coded in PHP with a jQuery front-end and is extremely fast. Anyone involved in Search Engine Optimization should be happy with it. At the moment it is in invite only mode so I can squash all of the bugs.
There have been questions as to how the site determines each users “Keyword Queue Ranking”. There are a multitude of factors, such as how long you’ve been a member. I cannot give out all the details, but I can say that it is an ongoing process and will be continuously tweaked.
Of course if you’d prefer to not deal with the Keyword Queue Ranking, then the option to donate to the site is available to get priority keyword checking. The site has not recevied any donations yet, so for just $1, you will be at the top of the list. Over time, if everyone donates $1, then you would need to donate another dollar to be first again.
Essentially the price for 1st in keyword priority is determined by you guys, not me. The site will show you where you rank in the keyword queue.
I am allowing 5 new signups. (1 SIGNUP LEFT) Enter code: fantasysp.com
If you have any questions or comments, respond below.
I’ve seen a lot of SEO Experts and many SEO tools recommend that you should be using hyphens in URLs rather than underscores, one example was Ann Smarty over at SearchEngineJournal. For the disadvantages of the underscore in URLs she says:
Traditionally it isn’t seen by search engines as a word separator (this is slowly changing now)
Slowly changing? It was reported in 2007 that Google and other search engines treat underscores like hyphens. To say it’s slowly changing is like saying Facebook is finally catching on. Three years on the web is an eternity. She also says that there are no disadvantages to hyphens. Though I’m not so sure about that. . .
Think about multiple ways that hyphens are used. Hyphens are added in-between words and in people’s names. For example, Maurice Jones-Drew of the Jaugars has a name with a hyphen. Let me give you an example of a potential sentence that includes his name:
Now if we use underscores it would look like this:
Slightly different meaning in both of those URLs, wouldn’t you agree? It is also much easier to read with underscores. Therefore the BEST option is underscores because people rarely use them when it comes to typing names or phrases. There is no way they will get in the way.
I know what your saying, I’m preaching to use underscores when this blog uses hyphens. Wordpress uses them by default (though I’m not sure why and I never changed it) Though I have used underscores on other projects…. Check out Jones-Drew’s page at FantasySP.com.
I don’t mean to single out Ann because she certainly knows her SEO, but this issue just keeps popping up every now and then and it truly annoys me. It needs to be squashed once in for all.
UPDATE: In the comments below, Kieron Hughes provides a link to Matt Cutts suggesting to use hyphens. I guess I stand corrected.
Do you guys agree with me or am I being too nit picky?
Today Google announced another new feature of Rich Snippets called Events. Of course it is a great idea to provide more markup to better track events of concerts, sporting events, movies, etc. However, what if Rich Snippets could be used for a slightly different reason? News updates on events or people. Let me show you what I mean with a real world example. . .
As I’ve mentioned tons of times before, I run a site called FantasySP which is a news aggregator for fantasy player news. What if for each player page, I add event data for each update? That way, when someone Google’s “Tim Lincecum”, they can at a glance quickly see his 3 latest updates right within the Google search page! I know this isn’t how Google intended it to be, but the results speak for themselves. Have a look:
Appearing right in the Google SERPS would be the 3 latest updates, including when they came in, giving the searcher a clear indication how fresh the content is. I would love to hear everyone’s thoughts and comments on utilizing Rich Event Snippets in this manner.
As you may have heard a while ago, Google decided to incorporate load time into where sites rank in terms of search results. The faster the load time, the more of a bonus they should get in SERPs. One of the things that slows down page loads more than anything are site advertisements. In this blog post we are going to look at what advertisements can do to load time, according to Google’s “Site Performance” chart in Webmaster tools.
For this analysis, we are going to look at FantasySP. FantasySP is a fantasy sports news aggregator that makes managing a fantasy team and tracking player’s much easier. I will show site performance when it had several ad networks compared to when it has just one ad network (Google Adsense).
Below you will see a chart of the performance of the site with about 3 to 4 different ad networks. The more ad networks should result in worse performance. The site load-time PRIOR to January of 2010 shows load-time with several ad networks. After January, just one ad network is used: Google Adsense.
Google says: On average, pages in your site take 3.9 seconds to load (updated on Jan 10, 2010). This is slower than 63% of sites. These estimates are of medium accuracy (between 100 and 1000 data points)
Quite a dramatic improvement isn’t it? The more ad networks, the worse your load time is, no surprise there. But let’s take this a step further. . .should we disable ads for Googlebot to artificially inflate load times in your favor? With no ads shown, FantasySP should load a lot faster. But we’ll get back to this in a bit.
Google says: “On average, pages in your site take 0.4 seconds to load (updated on Dec 7, 2009). This is faster than 97% of sites. These estimates are of low accuracy (less than 100 data points).”
The moral of the story is obvious, watch what ad networks you use for your website because it is killing your site’s load time. Not only for Googlebot’s site performance numbers, but your actual real life visitors as well. Why not offer a membership option for users to browse your site advertisement free, which is what FantasySP does.
As of 1/19/2010 I realized that the Site performance numbers are based on Google toolbar users load times. This means that while removing banner ads and unnecessary code snippets for Googlebot may be good because it can crawl faster, it won’t benefit you in any way when it comes to Site Performance numbers. Total bummer.