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Google searches for Windows Live Writer fixed! September 4, 2006

Posted by spikew in Google, WindowsLiveWriter.
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The issue with Google searches for Windows Live Writer has been resolved by a fix at Google.  Apparently, the issue was related to Windows Live Spaces in general, not just the Writer Zone blog.  The conversion of urls from the spaces.msn.com to spaces.live.com domains last month caused Google’s search engine to think something fishy was going on and caused spaces.live.com URLs to carry less weight in search results.

After the issue was picked up by Channel 9, and was then Scoblized, there was a lot of speculation about possible causes of the problem.  I’m actually very happy that the theories about this being an SEO issue turned out to be bogus.  While I can understand that SEO techniques have their uses for weighing one link better against another in generalized topic searches (say something like “WYSIWYG Blog Editor“), the idea that inadequate SEO could prevent a link as strongly tied to “Windows Live Writer” as the Writer Zone’s introductory blog post from even showing up in the results would make me seriously doubt the integrity of a search engine.

Matt Cutts from Google has provided some specific details about the fix on his blog: 

By the way, it looks like the primary issue with the Windows Live Writer blog was the large-scale migration from spaces.msn.com to spaces.live.com about a month ago. We saw so many urls suddenly showing up on spaces.live.com that it triggered a flag in our system which requires more trust in individual urls in order for them to rank (this is despite the crawl guys trying to increase our hostload thresholds and taking similar measures to make the migration go smoothly for Spaces). We cleared that flag, and things look much better now.

For a search like [windows live writer], I see the Windows Live Writer blog at number one, and the Windows Live Writer Beta product download page at number 2. Going forward, I’ll keep an eye on the spaces.msn.com to spaces.live.com migration with the crawl folks to make sure that it continues to be smooth. It also looks like Mike Torres is #1 for searches like [torres talking], so overall things look pretty good now.

I’m glad Google was so supportive in investigating and resolving the issue, and that spaces on Windows Live Spaces are now getting their proper rankings in the results.  Now, what’s up with Ask’s results? 🙂

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Theories on Google results for Windows Live Writer August 30, 2006

Posted by spikew in Google, WindowsLiveWriter.
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As the “Windows Live Writer blog banned from Google?” question makes its way around, the theories on the unexpected Writer search result rankings are starting to roll in.

Here’s a quick summary of the running theories:

  • The Writer Zone is Irrelevant Theory – Google’s search result is right and the Writer Zone is actually not the most relevant link about Windows Live Writer.  There have been several references to Google weighing the <title> element very heavily, so since the title of the blog isn’t “Windows Live Writer”, it doesn’t get ranked as highly as all of the other pages that do.
  • Link-bomb Theory – The sudden and dramatic increase in the number of inbound links to the Writer blog when the product launched triggered some kind of link-bomb safeguard.  This safeguard caused the search engine to exclude the detected link-bomb target in search results.
  • Trashy HTML Theory – The HTML generated by Windows Live Spaces is so bad that Google’s search indexer won’t include it.
  • Google is Evil Theory – Google is mean and forcefully removed the Writer blog.
  • Blogs are Hot Air Theory – Google’s algorithm weighs inbound links from blogs very lightly.  Since most links to Writer Zone are from blogs, this makes the Writer Zone ranking more volatile as more non-blog sources link to other websites (like the Writer download URL or http://ideas.live.com)

I don’t subscribe to the Writer Zone is Irrelevant Theory since the Writer blog was the top link for the first week after the product launched, and then suddenly disappeared completely from the results. We’ve been diligently monitoring all references to Windows Live Writer since the product launched and it seems to me that a very large percentage of them include a link back to the Writer Zone blog. A quick search on Technorati will give you some idea about the comparative relevance (at least measured in inbound links) of the Writer blog versus the current top search result:

I don’t subscribe to the Trashy HTML Theory because the HTML generated by Spaces is not that bad. Any good HTML parser can deal with far worse.

I already weighed in on the Google is Evil Theory, and I think its bogus.  Call me naive, but it’s silly to think Google would waste its time (and more importantly money!) on adjusting its search rankings to drop the Writer Blog.  Also, given that Writer is a tool used by bloggers, its not worth the risk of the firestorm it would cause if they ever got caught.

I’m most intrigued by the Link-bomb Theory.  It makes a lot of sense that Google would have safeguards in place to catch attempts to influence page ranks.  Google has done good work to prevent comment spammers from influencing page ranks. I don’t know what kind of link-bomb detectors they have in place, but if there are any…then just like junk mail filters sometimes flag real mail as junk, its easy to see how a flood of new links to the Writer blog could be seen as a link-bomb.

I’d like to add that I have a contact at Google who is being very responsive about investigating this, and it looks like Scoble is going to ask around on his visit to Google tomorrow too.  So I think we’ll soon have some kind of answer to the mystery.  I’ll post the final answer when we know.

Whatever the answer, I look forward to finding a way for our customers to get an informative overview when searching for the product rather than the “File Download – Security Warning” dialog they are currently getting when clicking the first result. 🙂

Windows Live Writer blog banned from Google? August 30, 2006

Posted by spikew in Google, WindowsLiveWriter.
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For almost a week now, I’ve noticed that searching for “Windows Live Writer” on Google no longer brings up the Writer Zone blog on Windows Live Spaces.  I know for a fact that there are way more inbound links to the Writer Zone blog in reference to Windows Live Writer than to anything else.

Here’s a sampling of various search engine results for “Windows Live Writer”.

I’m having a devil of a time getting Google to return the link to the Windows Live Writer blog in almost any search.  Here’s a smattering searches that pass and fail to bring up the Writer Zone blog:

Now, I’m no conspiracy theorist, so I don’t really believe Google yanked our Writer blog on purpose.  I would certainly never accuse them of trying to bury Writer just because they recently re-announced Writely :-). However, it definitely seems like something happened that caused Writer’s blog to get de-emphasized in their rankings.  If anyone can figure out how that happened, you may have discovered a powerful weapon for de-listing your competitors in Google search results.

Update: Check out the latest theories on Google results for Windows Live Writer.

Update 2: Google searches for Windows Live Writer are fixed!.  I’m happy to report that all of the “Windows Live Writer” searches linked above are now successfully returning the Writer Zone blog as the top result.