SES Interviews: Kim Krause Berg and Bill Slawski on Supplemental Index and Usability

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SMS: I would like to talk to you, Bill, a little bit about supplemental results and what’s going on with that in regards to partitioning, indexing, and extended indexes. There has been so much talk about supplemental results in the last couple of months. Everyone seems to be posting on how to get out of the supplementals – and I was one of them – but now everything’s changing.

Bill: Right, and if you talk to somebody from Google, like if you were to talk to Matt Cutts, what they would tell you is that you shouldn’t be upset because you’re in the supplemental results. You should actually be happy, because otherwise that page wouldn’t be indexed at all. It’s just an additional set of databases where they may not capture as much in relevancy information, positioning information, and stuff like that.

There were two patents that came out this year from Google granted on extended databases. The first one was in January; the second one was at the end of June. Both of them paint a pretty good picture of how the normal index works and then how the supplemental index works. They don’t use the word “supplemental” – they use “extended databases.” “Supplemental” is our term; it’s our phrase. It’s not something Google initially started using, as far as I know.

The basic idea is that those are supplemental pages for one reason or another. One might be because all Google has is a link to it, and they can’t actually access the pages. They either get server errors or some other messages, but they know that URL exists so they are pointing to it. They’ve got some information, like anchor text and so on, to give it some type of relevance. Or they visit the page, but the page doesn’t have very much PageRank, maybe because it’s a number of directories deeper than other pages on the same site. There may be other reasons why it’s just not deemed as important a page. PageRank does play a big role in that. The second patent that came out in June talks about how results may move up in both indexes based upon PageRank.

SMS: And now there is talk of getting rid of the toolbar and PageRank as well. What are they trying to do? Confuse us? Put us out of a job or something?

Bill: [laughs] The toolbar PageRank has never been a completely accurate guide. The ten-point scale on PageRank isn’t really a ten-point scale. It is also only a snapshot in time, captured 3 or 4 times a year, that shows what the PageRank of the page was then. I think it’s useful. I think it’s helpful to people because it gives you the potential to know whether something is wrong with one of your pages or not. There is a lot of stress over PageRank, so you have taken something intangible and made a commodity of it. And by making pages have value based upon a PageRank number, you’re creating an economy where PageRank is bought and sold. So if you get rid of PageRank, you get rid of the purchasing of links on pages based upon their PageRank.

SMS: Kim, you’ve been doing online marketing and different usability techniques for a pretty long time. You’ve probably seen a wide change in usability techniques and widely different design trends throughout the time you’ve been working with websites. When designer and SEO sit down to redesign a site together, and they are looking to SEO it or design it for usability, what are the main things they should look at?

Kim: Well, most important is to do things together. We work together as far as the content. For example, if someone is using a tag line, I will say, OK, a tag line is important for usability reasons, but it’s also important for SEO reasons. And we’ll explain why they should put it in text instead of an image, because usually it just gets thrown in an image. We back each other up.

I work with a lot of SEOs. They trust me because I know their world, and I’m not going to change their world. I think they are afraid that I’m going to say you can’t optimize pages or you can’t put this or that content on a page. My job is to make sure that all the work that an SEO does or a PPC person does pays off as soon as somebody clicks onto the page. If nothing happens when they click, then all that money is down the drain – which is why we need to work together.

But they need the keywords to lead them into the page in the first page. And sometimes I work with the SEO on that or I can help give them ideas on how to pick the right keywords to inspire that click, or persuade the click, whatever term you want to use. We really do work together. We’re not that different. We all want the same things.

SMS: It seems that designers typically have a hard time working with SEOs. They do not realize that things like Flash simply don’t work for SEO reasons. What is your experience with that from the usability standpoint?

Kim: [laugh] They don’t like us either, for accessibility reasons and for usability reasons. If the first thing you go to is a Flash page, it’s one more click right away, and it doesn’t answer a question once you’ve gotten there.

Bill: Flash has a tendency to be used in a way that ignores the medium it’s being used upon. The Web isn’t TV. If Flash is being used as one long animation, then they are trying to use the website as a television station. It’s much more than that. It can be used in many more ways. To ignore the fact that you have machines coming to your site to index your pages (or to do other things) is to ignore the medium.

Flash is a wonderful tool, and it’s great to use it on your website. But have a mix of HTML and Flash on your website. Use Flash for the things it is really great for like showing the full motion of things.

Kim: Or for a demonstration. Like I will say to a client – especially if they have a complicated site like one dealing with auto parts – seeing something put together in action through a little Flash file says a lot. A lot of people might know the part they need, but they don’t know what it does, or how it works, or how it connects to something. The visual explains it in ways the words can’t.

SMS: Great tips. Thank you both for coming out today and letting me interview you.

About the Author

Joe Whyte has been developing, managing and implementing successful, innovative, bleeding edge digital marketing strategies for Fortune 500 companies for over 7 years.

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