search engines

Don’t ever bank on free traffic, build on it

Maki wrote a good blog post today that for me spoke about marketing and creating things of value that have the efffect of creating converted users; that’s, people who will buy into whatever it is you do or are trying to achieve.

Be it via a comment, a hit of a subscription button, an add to favourites action , a credit card transaction or a link through to what you wrote or advertised, the bottom line is that without any of these sorts of actions, the likelihood is that you are either writing for yourself or selling something that is overpriced and overvalued or just not worth discussing.

Don’t rely on search engines

Free search engine traffic is great. A most welcome bonus that if used correctly, can help build a following, but that’s where it stops. If you are obsessing about building your rankings then your target sight is off kilter, you are looking at the wrong part of the equation.

Posts like the ones from across the blogosphere today and in the previous weeks regarding PR and paid links should be a wake up call for anyone who is serious about earning a living from a website online. If you remind yourself that your free traffic is very likely to be a transitory thing, if you tell yourself everyday that your free search engine generated traffic is likely to disappear tommorrow, then you’ll be doing yourself a huge favour.

Search Engines are not automated non policed systems, they do employ people to look at certain things and do take actions against people as and when they see fit.

You can complain until the cows come home but at the end of it all, rightly or wrongly they can do whatever the hell they like, when they like and how they like. There is no court of appeal, you can’t storm parliament, go on strike or sit out in the road, neither can you chain yourself to a fence either, if they kill your site and you care about or genuinely need or rely upon the traffic they send to you, then as harsh as it might sound – without a plan or loyal following you might as well just shut up shop, or get used to talking to yourself!

Yeah yeah, so what’s the plan then smarty arse?

Well…but of course there are positives, you don’t have to sit around burying your head in the sand hoping that you are never hit, you can at least try and adopt a meritocratic world view and build real traffic, *your* traffic, people who visit you because others have discussed you in some way because you are doing something or selling something or just saying something that adds value to the world and the playground in which you are kicking your ball around in. Be it via word of mouth or some href piece of html.

Take a look at these blogs here, all of whom have seen a reduction in their visible toolbar PR

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Then look at their webstats and their site metrics, look at their published subscriber numbers. Look at their Alexa, compete and technorati numbers. Look at the people who are commenting on their stuff, look at how well they are linked to and on what sort of terms. Then ask yourself why that is, I tell you what, I’ll save you the bother with the answer, as the answer is simple – All of the above are quality resources with something to say, it really is that simple.

Maki’s right

Google is an factor that is outside of your control. Sure, you can follow their rules or adjust your behavior to fit in but that still doesn’t put Google within your palm. What do good entrepreneurs do with uncontrollable factors? They create what-if contingency plans to accommodate for possible loss

Sigh – I’ll leave you with this little Portishead track, cos it kinda has a few on target lyrics, ‘you don’t get something for nothing, gotta try a little harder’

Unfairness inherent in authorities – just another flaw in an algo

Before I say too much else I just wanted to say that generally in most cases I think it unnecessary to be too specific when highlighting the failings and flaws of others. It’s too easy to point fingers and say, oh look at how crap so and so is, or look at how so and so are doing that. In most cases it’s simply not necessary, you can say the same thing without making an enemy for yourself.

Why am I gabbing on about this? Well I guess I’ve been partially inspired by a piece by a guy named Loren Baker at search engine journal, a site I read regularly and most of the time simply love to bits. Yet today, I was left with a bit of a hmmmn taste in my mouth asking myself whether it was really necessary to out the guys he did in the way he did. In one fell swoop he has effectively smashed the revenue stream of one particular website ( or seriously diminished its efficacy) and no doubt condemned the sites advertising to declining revenue streams at some latter point.

The power of the written word eh?

Ok, so sure , anyone could have dobbed these guys in via a search engine report link, we all know that and hey perhaps people have already. The point is though that SEJ is read regularly has a hefty subscriber base what is written there is practically guaranteed to be read by Googlies and Yahoos and Msn search dudes. I don’t know Loren, so I can’t comment on the type of guy he is or even try to second guess his motives. At worst he might have a payday loans site at position 11 and at best he might just be as perplexed as us all by the apparent power of the noscript tag and authority domains and is wondering why this is still so effective, I expect it is the latter.

Where is the juice – Noscript tag or Authority domain?

To think that noscript content could have such an impact on SERPs in isolation would be pretty silly.

Lets get this straight right here right now. The noscript tag is no magic bullet. The examples highlighted at SEJ are not (or weren’t) sitting at positions 1 and 3 in Google simply because of a few links contained in a noscript tag, they were there because the sites that contained their links were from sites of multiple themes and disciplines all of which contained the hit counter code from

False authority too easily attained

Why does (or soon to be did) have so much power and authority?

For those of you who may have been asleep for the past 3 or so years, domain authority in SEM terms relates to a domains ability to rank or convey link juice or pass pagerank. The idea is that if enough domains are linking to a singular site then it might well mean that the site or sites being linked to from so many different points (domains) in the web graph, could well be an on topic site for the keywords being used to link through to it. It’s one of the reasons why blogs and SMO sites are considered favourably in the search ranking fraternity. The idea is bolstered by the belief that individual bloggers are less interested in gaming search engine rankings than the minority of so called SEO’s and webmasters that are. The democratic effect of lots of people talking about a topic dictate that this social effect should be looked at and noticed and absorbed in any over all ranking score.

This all sounds somewhat perfect and idylic even. A meritocritous way of ranking sites from the social chatter ofweblogs and other live mediums. Harder to game, seemingly more reliable in any scoring system.

The applied semantic technology of old (we were told) was a vital tool for classifying content into its various themes and classifications. People have blogged and bragged about the importance of getting on topic themed links from related sources ( me included at some point I’m sure) yet when we look at that example it shows that in reality huge aspects of all this is bollocks. Forget your themed links from the right sites and directories, feck that, just go out and get any type of link from any type of domain that you can for your singular target keyword and…kazaaam, you’ll get the rank you want.

I was going to show what I meant further by using the Google link command link: yet curiously it shows no backlinks already, I wonder why that might be 😉

Anyways, not to worry we can use Yahoo’s site explorer with that funny old seo-rd parameter that they like to chuck in there and note that there are actually 2500 + reported backlinks for that domain. I can’t say whether this accurate or not as the SE’s may already have applied their SEO paranoid counter measures, but the point is, that a cursory glance over the sites shown reveals that domains that used the hitcounter code were from a very broad range of domains and blogs. They were not all from finance or loan related sites, in fact very very few of the sites discussed finance or laons in anyway at all!

Their backlinks came from .edu’s, .orgs, .coms, blogs, websites about religion, books, wood, horses in fact you name it and there was probably a site of one sort or another linking back to’s advertisers.

What it sreveals is that Google in particular doesn’t appear to work too hard in establishing domain authority. It seems to rely on numbers and not very much else. Why else would an uber competive term like payday loans be so easily and readily attainable?

Success for attaining payday loan SERP numero uno status was arrived at just like this.

1. Create a keyword domain that discussed finance and loan stuff within its content.

2. Get lots of links from lots of different domains with your ideal keywords

Yep, that was all there was to it. No need to get the right types of links from the right types of sites, just get links of whatever type and you are good to go.

So they went to and checked out their advertising rates and happily used their advertising program to boost them up the SERP’s. had domain authority, built upon the juice conveyed back from the 1000’s of domains and sites that linked backed to it within their code. This told Google and perhaps other search engines that here was a site that was being linked to from lots of different domains and IP addresses. It must therefore, be some kind of useful resource and worthy of whatever authority score the algo decided to bestow.

Yet, if you look at that and weigh it against the idea of the social web and multiple voices linking to singular things with related keywords then you see that in this regard, just shouldn’t have been in the same kind of crowd. It hadn’t done anything wrong, hit counters have been around long before Google or link text algorithms; it’s how they work, they sit on a site and link back to the mothership to read things like referals and times and dates and click paths.

So to me at least it shows that the whole ‘authority’ thing is at best a little weak and at worst completley and utterley underdeveloped. Why isn’t the algo detecting multiple same text incursions?

Why doesn’t it count the number of instances of keyword anchor text and decide that a number above a certain threshold or % maybe skewed and perhaps marked down a touch?

Why doesn’t it look insider the containers of where these links are found and make a judgement on that basis. In the payday loan example all of the links were inside a noscript tag! Yet, the algo again didn’t detect this fact and allowed the domain to rank for its keywords.

Why doesn’t it look at the placement of the code itself and notice a pattern? Whatever happened to the concept of Block Level Link Analysis?

The tactic as described is nothing new, there are 1000’s of others all doing the same. Just go to do a search on Google or yahoo fro free hit counter and see who is advertising. I’d bet that most are employing similar tactics to boost their own sites or sites of clients up the SERPs. It’s an exploit that is likely to be grown and adapted.

Is it going to be closed anytime soon? Hell, who knows. Surely it doesn’t take too much effort to say if link is this or that then discount its value. It makes you wonder what some of those search guys get up to all day…

Search engines – Public or Private accountability?

I’m one of these people who happens to value their privacy. Just like you do too no doubt.

Occasionally if the mood takes me, I’ll share a bit more about myself.

I’ll do a little meme or I’ll open up on an issue dear to me, maybe in a forum or some other persons blog perhaps. I’ll share my info with certain websites. I might enter a personal email or private address, credit card details, DOB that sort of thing.

The key issue is trust, I either choose or choose  not to trust  the site I am using, I decide whether or not I want to do business with them. That business can take the form of any number of the above described transactions, be it personal info private info or opinion, the bottom line is that its all my stuff, it comes from me, no one else owns or controls that, I’m a free man after all.

Keeping up with it all

We live in a fast changing world that moves at break neck speeds. In the world of technology its sometimes difficult to keep abreast of  the myriad of innovations that seem to constantly appear on the horizon. I like that, its cool it keeps me on my toes. I need to find out about it all too. I have a TV a Radio, I subscribe to the odd tech journal. I read newspapers, I listen to my friends and peers. I have a computer too (duh) and I use that to connect to the net with (double duh)  and yes at long last I hear you say, I use those things called search engines too.

In fact I use those search engines a great deal.

Search engines are vital to our lives

I benefit from search engines in lots of ways.

I could not function in the way I do without access to a search engine. They are fundamental to how my life is ran and structured.

Our world demands that to get on in it you need to be equipped with the skills and the tools required to successfully navigate your way around. For me, and I suspect lots of others too,  information is the lifeblood of my progress through life. Quick and easy access to the things I need is a vital part that enables me to move on and keep up  – the old methods of libraries and encyclopedias are old hat. They are too slow and in some cases  often out of date the moment their shelves are stacked.

>>Search engines and Business use

I’ve used them to gauge the performance of my business activities.  I’ve  used them to research other companies that I compete with. I’ve used them for competitive research purposes on behalf of clients. I’ve used them to find new opportunities, for myself and for the companies that employ me to do their bidding. I’ve used their products to promote both what I do and what the people I’m paid to help do too.

The benefits to me have been huge and have helped me establish the type of working life I can enjoy and benefit from. I couldn’t have learnt a fraction of what I know without their existence. I’d have traversed my curve a whole lot slower than what I have

>>Search engine and Personal use

Like many others I’ve also used them to research things I might write about on my blog. I’ve used them to find other ways of connecting to other people. I’ve used them to research personal issues. I’ve used them to research illnesses of loved ones, I’ve used them to research legal stuff around my rights and duties,  I’ve used them to win bets with friends or to just prove a smugarse point or two. I’ve used them to learn all manner of things. I’ve used them to find educational resources, interactive forums, answers to questions and problems.

Without labouring the point too much its clear to say that as in the example of  the business sphere above, I’ve benefited enormously from the advent of search engines. I’m also fortunate to be the type of person who can grab hold of these things and use them to maximum effect.

 It’s not one way traffic

Of course, it isn’t all about me me me and win win win. As self enhancing and marvelously beneficial it all looks at a glance, the search engines do benefit too.

The meteoric rise and influence of some today are indicative of their mass public appeal and use. Companies like Google being worth billions of dollars practically overnight has been no accident. Users like me, have helped build these  empires. Ordinary citizens and companies have written the documents that have formed their vast databases. Documents  continually fetched and reappraised by their search engine bots and spiders, bots that continually trawl cyberspace in their everlasting quest for information, feeding on the knowledge of the world, sucking everything in  like some huge information vacuum cleaner.

I love this quote from Robert Morgan

Knowledge is power. Information is power. The secreting or hoarding of knowledge or information may be an act of tyranny camouflaged as humility.

But hey, search engines share the information they receive right? Absolutely they do. Why wouldn’t they even. It isn’t theirs to keep after all, they are simply enabling users to search and find key information within the array of servers used to store the data.

That’s cool though isn’t it? Nothing wrong with that, they get to slap a few related ads from people looking to sit alongside the queries and they benefit from the revenue accrued from their user clicks. A marteting mans wet dream almost – users in buy mode, get the opprtunity to click on ads from companies looking to sell the very thing they are after.

So what does this have to do with that Robert Morgan quote – why am I even blathering on about it, what does it have to do with anything I hear you ask.

>>Search engines are data miners

If you take off the fluffy rose tinted specs and put down the kool aid for 20 seconds or so, you might be pleased or concerned to hear that search engines also store data related to how you search and can and do attribute it to personal users. They track your queries and track your behaviours, they talk about that they do in the broadest of terms but give very little away on the specifics. A recent document criticised one particular search engine and assigned them in the lowest grade. A news article reported it thus

In a report released Saturday, London-based Privacy International assigned Google its lowest possible grade. The category is reserved for companies with “comprehensive consumer surveillance and entrenched hostility to privacy.”

See, over here in the UK we have this thing called the data protection act. It enables people like me, should the mood so take me to request of a company or organisation that is storing data on me, specific access to those files and information. It enables me to keep a track on those watching me and possibly using stuff they have on me against me or in ways I might not agree with. Its fee based, but its there to see should I so want to see it.

It might be boring to repeat the list of findings the report highlights, as I’m sure you can draw your own conclusions and theorise as to the where’s and who’s of where some of that stuff could go.It’s certainly annoyed  one  shareholder  and I don’t doubt one or two more even, and one can kinda see why too.

When things like this grow legs and begin to walk then things can begin to freefall pretty quick. Questions begin to get asked from all manner of angles and places, forcing carefully considered responses. The  data protection working party represents the interests of some 650 million people . It seems very reasonable of them to ask such questions, hell why wouldn’t you even.

>>>>Privacy Defeciencies

Its not too far a leap to ask why it is that a privately owned company with an almost monopolistic grip on something so fundamental to the lives of so many people should  be allowed unrestricted insights and access into the lives of its users.

Why shouldn’t I or any other person on the planet be allowed to search in private? Why should my actions be open to scrutiny from faceless people that I have no knowledge of. Why should I have delve deeply into the annuls of some corporate privacy document to find out how they are tracking what I do.

Hell why is there not even one mention of the word ‘query’ or ‘queries’ in that document itself, is it any surprise that when Privacy International  (PI)   should identify things like…

Google logs search queries in a manner that makes them personally identifiable but fails to provide users with the ability to edit or otherwise expunge records of their previous searches.

…that people like me and millions of others too for that matter should sit up and ask, hang on a minute, what is this all about then?

Matt cutts complains

Google didn’t leak user queries

In this past year, AOL released millions of raw queries from hundreds of thousands of users. Within days, a journalist had determined the identity of an AOL userfrom the queries that AOL released. But AOL got a better grade than Google.

So because Google didn’t leak those queries or mess up with the data storage (yet) that makes it ok then? If anything those links referenced show how off this whole thing is.

It really doesn’t wash for a company to be able to argue that ‘Oh its ok, we aren’t gonna do anything nasty with it all, we promise, trust us..’ um no sorry buddies, why should we? You didn’t think it cool to tell us in your privacy document, what else aren’t you telling us? How else are you making capital on the trust I invested in you as a user? Seriously, what else aren’t you telling me? It’s a reasonable question.

Diminshing trust

I can’t deny it, my mindset has shifted. For sometime now I’ve seen Google in a different light. Yahoo, MSN for me they always we’re nothing but what they are – a face of global capitalism. Companies set up designed to extract maximum value for their shareholders and investors.

See, Google were different. They once were very very cool.  I liked this company a whole lot.They took the webmaster community with them and people bought into that whole do no evil mantra. People like Matt we’re a human interactive face to what seemed to be a hip funky happening company.

With its glow lava lamps funky little logos and goofy colours, its simple fast efficient search engine. I enjoyed following its little data refreshes and its Google dances and all the other paraphernalia that came with it. I wanted them to succeed, crazy huh? I, and apparently lots of other geekazoids really did want this  group of geeks doing geeky things with tech stuff to succeed. A breath of fresh air on what was for me at least a stale and money grabbing profit at all costs altavistic landcape

Yet today, not just over this PI report, or that EU enquiry mind; today – I’m like, all that ‘do no evil stuff’ is just meaningless tosh now. I don’t buy their ubergeek we are all nice and cool people image anymore,I haven’t for sometime. Reports like the one mentioned add credence to a view that it really is about time we had some legislation that forced certain standards upon private companies.

Sorry google but doing things like tracking me and not giving me opt out options, just because its a way of improving the datasets and knowledge and value you can give to other interested marketers and affiliates and shareholder value  is just plain wrong. To add to the mix the fact that its not even private, that my very queries alone can be looked at and read by some one who I don’t even know is very disturbing too. I really don’t like it. You’ve gone too far.

Two wrongs don’t make a right

Ok so sure, theoretically my ISP could well be a whole lot worse. After all they filter all the data that I send out there. It all comes through their pipe. Every piece of unencrypted plain text data I push through their servers could theoretically be grabbed analysed and crunched. Thats MSN chats, emails, websites visited, everything.

There are quite clearly already recognised serious privacy issues there too, addressed at various levels but thats a topic for another discussion perhaps – the reality is that most people are just blissfully unaware.

Search engines might argue that comparatively they are not as ‘bad’ as Internet Service Providers (ISP’s). That ISP’s are the potential bad boy exploiters in all of this and to some extent I have a little sympathy with that view, but at the same time, it really isn’t about some “they are worse than me, so leave me alone and pick on them instead” kind of world view. Its about ensuring that  providers of services like Google who ( agree or disagree) have a monopolistic near 80 % stranglehold on something as fundamental and utilitarian as search; behave in ways that ensure my personal rights and privacy are at worst maintained and at best enhanced.

You don’t have to use them Rob

It isn’t really an argument to say that if I don’t like it then I should use something else, because the others out there could well be doing the same things or worse.

Search is fundamental to all of our lives. We need some strong public accountability in our search engines enforced by strong democratic controls.

The perfect algorithm – how would yours work?

Search engine ranking algorithms are a mysterious thing. Very few people on earth have access to their exact blueprint, for those of us who think we have cracked it, it all seems relatively simple. Put enough of the right things in place in the right combination and presto you are in, right, simple huh? In reality of course, hardly.

Work at the coalface dictates that the safes combination gets harder to crack as more people try to open it for their target terms. It just doesn’t do anymore to think of ones documents in simple structure word count and number terms. As the document numbers increase, some keywords can take on an almost esoteric level of attainment. The access parameters are ratcheted up to a point of ‘hey if you want to score here, you gotta be doing real good‘. So, whats a man to do then?

Techno crackhead SEO’s on observation acid

SEO minded people who think about this sort of stuff might well share some of my musings, specifically in terms of thinking like a search engine algorithm. The theory being of course that any successful understanding of anything makes it a whole lot easier to apply what we have learned and therefore, apply in attacking it – hardly rocket science there.

Too many people I think, tend to approach SEO from a rigid bits and bytes approach. They forget that at their very core, search algos are built by ordinary thinking human beings, subject to similar influences as us all. They are people who visit the same kinds of conferences, interact with the same kinds of people via forums and blogs and pubs and restaurants. The only difference between them and us, and lets not make no mistake about it, it is very much them and us is that they hold the keys and are in a state of continual defence and counter offence.

Observation observation observation

If you look at most sites that perform well consistently today, then amongst the more competitive of SERPs, there are a number of observable constants.

It seems almost obvious to say, but I’ll say it nonetheless that most good sites with good competitive rankings are relatively well balanced and have the right combinations of the required signals to rank.

Really Rob? No shit sherlock, well yeah but it doesn’t hurt to say them out loud now does it.

Content content content

On the content side its pretty safe to say that a site has to have the right level of keywords, spread about in the right kind of way. In the overwhelming majority of cases pages that rank for keywords have them on the page.

Trust me baby and I’m popular too

On the trust side a site needs the right level of authority in its field, with the right kinds of people linking in, in the right kinds of way.

On the social side its not a bad thing to to hope that the site is discussed often enough in the right web social circles.

Do people hang at your party?

From the visitor perspective, we know that search engines can deduce a hell of a lot from the actions of people who are either logged in or have a toolbar installed. Toolbar data being a great way of obtaining that vital user behaviour data useful for indicating the right positive or neagitive feedback signals.

If you can objectively measure how people behave ‘on site’ then overtime, with sufficient data, some excellent assumptions can be made.

If questions like, ‘Once on a site how long do visitors stick around‘ can be answered or ‘Are they off in a heartbeat flicking back to the SERP for a better result‘ then asking the questions of ‘Is this a common phenomena‘ and ‘How many different people in different parts of the planet engage in such behaviour patterns‘ really do help to make assumptions and say that these would be the kinds of signals that should be folded in and added to a sites overall ability to rank.

We don’t like SEO’s we don’t want or need their sphere of influence

For the Search engines, an SEO’s ability to influence the latter aspects mentioned is next to zero. As a result, this information should outweigh many of the other established or accepted signals that many assume to be weightier.

For me, this should be the holy grail of a search engineers work, creating an algo that is next to unmanipulable, at least by the direct actions of search engine marketers.

Other contributions of course are things like ‘user personalisation’, often talked about as the next big SEO challenge, with algos tailored towards surf history, age and user behaviour; almost dictating that the day of the universal SERP are on their way out.

SEO on its deathbed?

Absolutely not! Good SEO’s who appreciate the ever shifting sands already have an excellent take on all of the factors required to rank. Even with the private data mining capabilities mentioned, the search engines still require good, well structured sites made and promoted by people with a good understanding for what creates and sustains buzz and interest in this Internet world – that demand isn’t going to go away anytime soon.


Its no surprise that the big search players all make a big play on the benefits of membership to their little cookie clubs and whatnot, and maybe a day will come even, where they are arrogant enough to make you play their game or go off and find something else to search with, who knows.
They can hardly be blamed mind, cos after all, it all helps in the quest for the perfect algo right?

Google Backlinks

Matt tells us all about the new Google backlinks feature in the webmaster console.

I had a little look at this and must confess, think its pretty cool in an ‘ooh this is interesting kind of way’.

The numbers aside, what I really liked was how it enables you to drill down to individual pages and see the number of external links pointing to each URI.

If you have a good site with lots of different types of content a thing like this is a handy feature. If there are a high number of links to a certain page, then it could mean that this page is adding lots of value to lots of different people, which could be interpreted as a do-more-of-this type-of-thing signal. Sure, you could find out similar stuff from logfile analysis too, but it might take a little longer to identify such specifics.

I’m not going to say too much on this as much of it has already been said. What I’d like to see in addition would be a few extras like.The ability to identify what types of links these were; eg were they nofollow, what is the makeup of the anchor text, what were the dates these links were 1st encountered/registered, what is the pagerank of these external in links, how do my pages rank for their target terms. Sure, again, I could go out and look at these things myself, Google could make it all a bit easier though. Maybe someone could make a little app that enabled people to plugin their csv datasets and obtain such a report.

Anyone for a spot of cURLing?  😉

SEO – Brain surgery? Perhaps not, but its not so far off!

Reading this blog here from oilman got me thinking about SEO and how people value their worth in terms of what they charge for their services and how some of what he is saying about others and their denigrating what we do can impact upon us negatively.

Putting to one side all those idiots who say they will submit your site to the search engines for a one off fee of $100 solicited by way of some awful looking spam email or adsense ad somewhere. Those tosspots really don’t help the situation as they help paint a perception that there really is nothing to what people like me do, when the obverse is so blindingly obviously true!

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