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What have You Done with your SEO Skills?

While setting this blog “no index” for Google and blocking Google technical services from managing the website activity, I was reminded of my precarious public status in SEO years ago.

As a competitive webmaster, I loathe public scrutiny of my activities. Like everyone, I have professional projects, passion-based projects and activities, and legacy projects and activities. In my career and personal life, I have come to know a good number of very successful people, many of whom achieved that success while partnered with me and others.

Shhhh…. Don’t Tell Anyone

I have ALWAYS contracted confidentiality with projects I contribute to, all the way back to the beginning. But, as a human in this very messy world, I recognize that you cannot “legislate morality”. People talk… especially if you are successful. Team members  just love to brag about their successes, even if the success is supported by confidentiality! Go figure.

With humans, privacy management becomes a modus operandi, not a contracted condition.

My early career in corporate intelligence taught me a great deal… there are leaks everywhere. There are spies everywhere. Spies are like the tide. You cannot resist the tide. Your strategy must flow with the tide, or retreat from it (which seems horribly inefficient to me).

Spies are low-cost human resources, of almost infinite number. Also, employees cannot be trusted. And partners are only partners today. Know what a high-profile income opportunity was for homeless people I recently surveyed in one city? Penetration testing… I kid you not.

Additionally, in business, your successful partners are your most likely future competitors. Have you ever seen an executive steal a business development strategy after collaborating on it for over a year, with plans to deploy it separately as a competitor in the very same market? I have.

Great SEOs know How Search Impacts the World

Despite my not associating myself in public with any major projects, I have been an invited V.I.P. at seo conferences, an invited speaker on advanced SEO topics, taught courses, and have been invited to sit on company boards in the search space. I was even listed as an Honorable Mention in a respected list of the Top 10 SEO people in the world, published by a highly-respected SEO authority who has been repeatedly proven right, even when top names in SEO publicly claimed he was wrong.

Note: Shortly after that post, SEOMOZ dropped out of SEO consulting completely, and changed its name to Moz, largely because SEO consulting wasn’t a sustainable business model lol.

As a “senior” SEO and web entrepreneur, I am frequently asked to advise on many projects where I do not play a formal role. I also volunteer, which gives me broad exposure. Word of mouth is… I don’t talk about my past or current work, but I do know what I am doing with SEO, search, and the Internet. Sort of the opposite of so many high-profile SEOs who mostly do marketing, not SEO.

SEO is a Game

SEO is a game. The truth of any game is that failure to play means you lose. You default, by default. So if you play the seo game, you simply have to play ALL of the innings, if you expect to have any chance of winning.

But does the SEO game have an ending?

Surely the pinnacle of success in SEO is not owning an agency. That would suck.

How about managing a team of SEOs? Well, that could be fun if you had a great team chasing lofty goals.

It could also be fun to collaborate in a thought leadership position in an industry of less-progressive executives, representing the very concept of SEO, while also overseeing the practice.

Perhaps the pinnacle of SEO success is retiring from the game completely, with massive personal wealth? Define “massive”, lol. There’s never enough. Surely it would be a mistake to “retire” without adequate wealth… you’d live out the rest of your life proving to the world you never really did know what you were doing all those years.

The Game Never that Ends: SEOs Just Fade Away

Like golf, seo is an endless challenge. You can never be good enough!

Yesterday Tiger Woods topped the leaderboard at 16 under par… 16 shots below the typical expected performance on the course so far! For the time I watched, he played consistently at 5 under par.

Amazing play… but honestly, still far from perfect! I could never do what he does, yet…. I believe he can do even better. I have faith in Tiger, and everyone else who does the work to be their best.

I also believe any SEO of any calibre can, honestly, do better than they ever did before, if they do the work and still have the ability.

But will they? Can they? Should they? Do they even want to?

Experienced SEOs Know…

Keeping Open-Minded about Creativity when Considering Domain Portfolios

Just some thoughts captured, as a reminder about the importance of accommodating creativity, even when it seems so very awkward.

As a consultant to super-successful people, I have often witnessed leaders/decision-makers suffer through obviously awkward, cringe-inducing moments when ideas were first proffered by creative thinkers. Too often, IMHO, those decision-makers discounted the ideas, and I believe the cringe-factor played a role.

Sometimes a successful business person simply cannot stomach a really “out there” idea, and decides to simply move on, without considering it.

When considering domain strategies, for example, some industry players will skip right past a domain idea that is too far “off base”. Yet years later, the whole team realizes that if they had built that little side project, it would be super valuable in a practical sense, today. Or they see it sell on the aftermarket for 100x the initial price.

What would ave been a sub-$200 “investment” would now be worth thousands…evento them. Yet they passed on acquiring it, because it seemed too far off-base.

Priceless has a Cost

Creativity is a priceless commodity. In my experience, when things seem most awkward to us, that awkwardness is a sign that we would almost never consider the idea on our own, suggests it is really “out there” from our perspective…. and that is precisely why we should give it some consideration.

Don’t act on it, but certainly explore it as a possibility, and gleem what you can from the discussions of the potential of the “crazy idea”.

But That Would Never Work

Maybe it could never work, but if it was considered a possibility by someone on your team, doesn’t it, by definition, have some merit as an idea?

If not, you have the wrong creative people on your team. You should not have people you do not consider credible on your team, contributing ideas. Read Ray Dalio’s essays/books for more on that topic… people can be trusted based on their past performance, provided you actually know about their past performance.

That would be Nuts!

Yes, some true innovations seem crazy at first, but if an idea was obviously good, the chances someone else is doing it is very high. In SEO and domaining, first-movers can win big. Profits from organic SEO strategies can flow UNTIL everyone else enters the game and dilutes the traffic. A truly innovative idea SHOULD seem crazy when first considered, in my humble opinion.

But where do we Stop? 

With domain portfolio investing, this is a common retort to the “it couldn’t hurt to hold this domain, and it just might be important down the road” situation. The “only $15/year” holding cost of a domain is not substantial, but what about 100 of those? Two hundred?

Creativity is priceless, as is Discipline  

The answer is easy : you stop when your portfolio value goes down.

I believe a portfolio of 100 names evidently important to your marketplace is worth $100/domain, plus the market value of each name, as a conservative estimate. That means 100 names that are evidently important… ones that would be recognized as meaningful by your prospects (including search engines), is worth at least $10,000, even if every name had no acknowledged aftermarket value (so-called “reg fee” names).

That floor value is a low-end estimate of selection and opportunity costs, plus competitive value. BEFORE adding the market-recognized value of any names within the portfolio. The fact that reasonable people on your team considered them evidently of value to the marketplace, establishes that minimum value.

What’s your Portfolio Worth?

Not so easy to value the portfolio? As in any business, if you are in it, you need to be good at it. If you can’t value your domain name portfolio, you shouldn’t be investing in domain names. And if you don’t see value in a particular domain name that is considered evidently attractive to your online audience, you perhaps should not expect to be a winner in your online marketplace.

Happy Independence Day!

Trash-Talkin’ Newbies: the New Link Builders

SEO World has a new generation of specialists. They are brash, aggressive, and proud trash-talkers. They are link builders. They build links. They grew up (physically) with a Google where all that mattered for SEO was links, links, and more links.

Oh, so young, and oh, so…… naive? Yet they work hard (when they are working). They have a focus that works for the win : get paid to build links, and build links to get paid.

With a lightweight requirement for that focus to not be required for very long, on any given day, it’s a good “job” for this period of uncertain economic status, and overpriced schooling.

The Origin Story of Modern Day SEO Link Builders

Of course there have always been SEOs who focused exclusively on link building. Even some of the old school RockStarz actually just managed link building for affiliate and client sites. I know a few like ________ and ________ who took to the podium on a regular basis to preach high-brow white hat SEO tactics, while limiting their actual SEO practice to building links using 3rd party service providers.

Plus many mainstream SEOs have lost their touch with modern Google. Since none of their SEO mojo moves the modern day Google needle, they work to shift clients to PPC and, you guessed it, link building.

But the older generation of link building SEOs hid their secret link builder lives. Today’s new generation of link builders are openly trash talking about links and PBNs on social media, unafraid of consequences.

I have to admit, history has shown there is no more Matt Cutts, and today’s Google seems to love love love sites with little more than link support.

Today’s Young Link Builders

Some started as junior assistants to SEOs active in the early 2000s, when links seemed to be the only way a poorly-trained SEO could gain traction in the SERPs. SEOs like _______, ______, and ______ who disregarded technical, content, or strategic SEO and just focused on brute force link blasting for the win.

Once capable, they took their skills with them to work as independent freelancers, mixing old school outreach with new school private blog network development, for a flexible product mix they could play with, while still getting paid. Often running tax-exempt Bitcoin or Paypal-for-the-win operations, they have incredible financial freedom, compared to similar mom’s basement operators of yesterday.

Others are completely new to the SEO game, having simply started on the advice of a friend in category 1 or category 3, described below. “Just build links for a fee, and put 50% of your earnings back into building affiliate sites you can also utilize for shit backlinks for low-budget clients”, they were told. From what I’ve been told, they put 100% back in (living off funds stolen from mom’s purse in the mean time).

S.C.O.R.E! It was good advice… while established link builders grew to charge $10k/month for quality link building for real projects, these scrappy upstarts picked up the low end of the marketplace, offering unchecked quality backlinks for $100, $250, or $500 per month (who needs a contract when you have credit card rebilling lol?).

Of course once a client perceived a dependency on those links, the maintenance price went to $100 or $1500 or… whatever, right?

That third category? Some of the new crop of link builders are actually spawn of old school SEO link builders, still feeding at the tit but branching out into the darker, scammier arenas too risky for Big Brands that pay $10k/month for link building services.Nice work if you can get it.

Spammin and Jammin’

Fun aside, props are due to the doers who get the job done. In the past, once Google clamped down and stopped sharing the advertising revenue, aside from seriously committed business developers (most of whom were independent or semi-independent lead gen types), most SEOs were spammin’ and jammin’ to financial gains. Only the Podium SEOs, Big Brand consultants,  and professional pretenders were able to keep the funds flowing while underperforming on the SEO front.

Who are these young’uns who get the job done? For now, I won’t link out to any of them, until they convince me I should (and of course, then I will). They are, after all, link builders, right?

The Declining Value of Established SEO Websites

The truth is they will only reach out to me for shits and giggles, because with the current Google, they don’t need links from me or anyone else with SEO relevance. They can just point 1,000 shit links and get a bigger boost, immediately, routed through a throw-away proxy for safety, right?

 

The Dawn of the Disinformation Age

We can haggle about the exact month or quarter later, when we have historical hindsight, but as of right now I’m calling it: the Information Age has ended, and we are now in the Disinformation Age.

Fake News is not the Reason

Chris Hedges did a good job describing the Fake News phenomenon:

The object of fake news is to shape public opinion by creating fictional personalities and emotional responses that overwhelm reality. Hillary Clinton, contrary to how she often was portrayed during the recent presidential campaign, never fought on behalf of women and children—she was an advocate for the destruction of a welfare system in which 70 percent of the recipients were children. She is a tool of the big banks, Wall Street and the war industry. Pseudo-events were created to maintain the fiction of her concern for women and children, her compassion and her connections to ordinary people. Trump never has been a great businessman. He has a long history of bankruptcies and shady business practices. But he played the fictional role of a titan of finance on his reality television show, “The Apprentice.”

The rise of Fake News isn’t responsible for the Dawn of the Disinformation Age. It’s just one very obvious symptom of the establishment of the new age. Fake News has been around forever. When I was a kid, it was gossip, and rumor. The internet has amplified it, and made it more powerful. The corrupt press has adopted it as a tool.

We all saw that part coming… the rise of the “television Anchor Man” who wasn’t a real journalist. The dawn of “cable news”. The embedding of media and elimination of field journalists & photojournalists. The consolidation of newspapers. The success of tabloids in Britain, as newspapers struggled. The firing of news staff, replaced with new people charitably described as early-career “writers”. The move from professional photography to “hey wanna-be celebrity news correspondant, don’t forget to bring your iphone to get some pics“.

Corrupted Information Distribution

Now we also have the corruption of information distribution, via agendas pursued behind the scenes by Facebook, Google, and Twitter, and others. Google has long hidden its manipulations behind a secret “algorithm”. Facebook hid its manipulations behind the Timeline interfacess. And Twitter..well, I guess poor Twitter couldn’t come up with anything better than the outright censorship they’ve implemented.

The Blogging Revolution didn’t last long. The corrupt entities worked to kill it technically, while simultaneously shifting incentives away from independent reporting.

Google manipulated commenting, compartmentalized indexation & ranking of blog-published content, and killed non-Google distribution efforts. It raided the RSS world for virtually all the leadership talent, and then aggregating the feed users via its subsequent virtual monopoly on RSS feed reading and distribution. Then Google killed off its own popular feed reader abruptly.

Facebook’s core agenda competes directly with blogging, so simply advancing with billions of IPO dollars worked to kill blogging.

Similarly, Twitter’s parasitic “microblogging platform” eagerly sickened the host.

Group Think and In-Group Preference

Probably the biggest colluding factor aiding the rise of the Age of Disinformation seems to be Group Think, also known as “in group preference“. That part is YOU, dear reader. When you echo only sentiments you agree with, whether or not they are based in fact or even reasonable, you contribute to the group think that appears to be reality to so many who know even less than you.

All the Trump comments are perfect evidence of this. I won’t go there in this article, but if you have a firm stance pro or against President Donald Trump, you are likely part of the problem.

Self-Medicating

In America, the common man has been abandoned by the press. As individuals permit their livelihoods and lives to be placed at risk, as a consequence of they themselves choosing not to investigate or reason through often inaccessible facts, they feel the vulnerability. In response, they are forced to cope with fear and uncertainty, even as they go about their regular business.

Fear and Loathing in America

Ambient fear and uncertainty takes a significant toll of the psyche.

Operating under fear, individuals do not think more reasonably, act more rationally, or listen more astutely. Nor do they react more appropriately.

On the contrary, manipulated by fear they over-react, shut down, deny threats, take drugs to manage anxiety, and sometimes scream out in anger, resentment, or despair.

Have you ever tried to console a 3 year old whose balloon has escape and is visibly soaring away, high in the sky? Nothing will ease the pain, except a promise of immediate attention to the task of getting another one, right now. And sometimes it needs to be a bigger, better one.

That promise is often a lie… unless the little tyrant has previously proven he really means to wreck the world unless he gets his balloon back, right, now.

Reference: I don’t agree with a lot Chris Hedges writes these days. I see him as biased; swayed by disgust with his journalism peers, and perhaps disappointed to the point of depression, if not actually crippled, by his loss of access to quality information. But, within this essay I found the above commentary on Fake News http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/46075.htm

Hate the Player

Here’s another post for the “I’ve seen this alot while an SEO consultant” category.

In discussions yesterday, a young guy lamented his lack of serious success, even though he was very good at what he does, and even though he worked very hard. I listened, and yawned. A lot. It’s the same old stories.

Yesterday Hacker News ran a thread about how developers could make “passive income” with their skills. The declarative answer citing profit levels for games, ebooks, courses, etc was full of guesses and errors, but sounded authoritative to the readers. The comments stream was funny… I don’t think a single commenter sounded credible to me.

Same old same old, for a new crop of inquisitors. “We (developers) are awesome. Businesses make profits because we are awesome. How can I get more of that awesomeness for myself?

The truth is, independent success is not always about being good at what you do. Sorry.

SEO is not just Keywords or Optimizations

The Hacker News folks concluded that developers aren’t very good at business, which they have to be in order to achieve independent success. And they probably won’t find “passive” success much… it usually requires a lot of ongoing work. Go figure?

Yesterday on Twitter someone noted that a dental marketing company had a sub-par website, yet reportedly cleared $4M / year in revenues. That confused him… how “with a website like that” they could achieve what he considered outstanding success, with what looked like a small operation.

A quick look at that website revealed they claim an average of 60 new customers per month for their clients. A modern, professional, effective website means very little when compared to word of mouth testimonial that a hired agency will add 60 new customers to your dental practice each month. However they do it doesn’t matter…and whether that is visible from their website or not, doesn’t matter.

Those self-proclaimed experts offering SEO audits do the same thing every day… they come in from outside, make detached, specific judgments of “what’s wrong” with a web business, or what could be better, add some soft promises of success that could be obtained by listening to their advice, and then walk away with their (often hefty) fee.

It is usually clear that they know very little about how a specific business achieves actual success… they merely track this or that metric which they believe is correlated with business success, and rely on oft-repeated claims of how seo and web marketing support business success.

Players, Every One

These are all players. They are in the game to play, not to win.

There is a saying “don’t hate the player; hate the game” which is usually uttered as a defense against being scolded for playing. I think that defense also reveals the truth about players — they need the game to continue, in order to survive.

An SEO consultant survives by winning at the consulting game, not by playing. Just like everyone else, playing is a time-consuming activity, so being paid to play is just having a job. You work, you get paid.

True success (for anyone… a consultant, or a company) involves revenue generation separate from active participation. The Hacker News developer sought the secret recipe for “passive income” probably because he’s tired of playing the game… or he knows that he will only get paid as much as he participates. He wants a side gig that pays dividends without requiring continuing hours of effort.

Don’t we all want that?

The successful consultant wants to earn enough with N hours of effort, to afford a lifestyle that includes N+X hours of leisure of other activity (more time off work than at work).

If you smartly earn $2 Million in 6 months, you can live like a millionaire for the whole year. Scale that up or down according to your lifestyle goals, but the point is you don’t have to work the 9x5x5x50 (9-5 job, 5 days per week, 2 weeks vacation) to enjoy a well-funded life.

See One, Do One, Teach One?

In medical school there was a saying “see one, do one, teach one”. A medical person would not attempt any new procedure, because that was forbidden (they were not “qualified”). Yet oddly, the qualification required was as minimal as possible — often as little as having witnessed the procedure done by someone else.

See one, do one. Visit with a cooperating mentor, be shown how to do it, and then go and do it.

Equally surprising was the way this cascaded down the food chain, from Sr. Surgeon to attending surgeon to surgical resident etc… That is the “teach one” part.

Educators know that teaching is a great way of reinforcing learning… so the medical school culture of “see one, do one, teach one” supported practical supervised learning and training… throughout the system. A young Doc would seek out a chance to participate in a surgery, and then a chance to do one, and later teach others the same way.

In SEO consulting, THIS — DOESN’T — WORK. Yet, I see it tried all the time. It works for players, but it doesn’t lead to serious success in the game. And I can tie idea this back to the original “real success” issue raised by my Jr. SEO Consultant friend.

They Try This All The Time

If you succeed at SEO consulting, you will develop a reputation for being someone who can actually “move the needle“, meaning you have proven yourself by developing real, meaningful ranking websites or increasing business revenues significantly relative to your fee.

Once that happens, you will be approached by winners, not just those seeking to play the game. Real business winners don’t chase uncertain or unproven consultants. They wait… and approach the winners.

This should be part of success for your SEO consulting business — good clients coming to you — but actually, it is another of the many traps awaiting those who succeed at life.

Remember the wise old saying… “as you grow stronger, the world gets more dangerous”.

The winners are not better clients, although they do bring bigger opportunities for success.

I have this Friend

Time and again I am approached by a winner who is seeking help with his business, while behind the scenes that guy is actually one member of a group of winners, running multiple businesses. While Guy #1 approaches me to attempt to engage me into consulting for his successful business, he is really working on behalf of Guy #2, Guy #3, and others, who have much bigger plans if what I can do for Guy #1 actually works.

This is usually obvious to me, because I do background work on any serious client prospect. Before meeting, I usually know where their success comes from, and it is (usually) clear when a private network of businessmen support each other. And that is very often the case.

Independent success is not always about being good at what you do.

Humans form tribes. Tribe members help each other. Relatives, cousins, college floor mates, buddies from an older funding round, etc. Chances are very good that Guy #1’s successful business was helped by his mates, or his club membership, or is not-exactly-as-it-seems (such as backed by a family funder, or owned by a partnership). During an interview, it’s pretty easy for me to learn when someone is seriously engaged into hiring me, vs. attempting to check me out using a less-meaningful project.

I don’t take those jobs. I don’t have to, and I know they are not “winners” for me.

Another fun fact: the typical “much bigger project” potentially undertaken by that larger club, tribe, or group is not usually a very good idea.

Guy #1 is, however, the one who usually believes it is. The other guys are usually “see one… do one” types. If they don’t support the plan of trying out an SEO consultant with a starter project, they are going along because they expect to learn whatever they can about how that SEO consultant operates, so they can attempt to do the same, themselves, and their own projects.

There is No Substitute for Success

The bottom line for any SEO is that success is defined by the project. If it’s yours, you know what matters, and what doesn’t. There is never any debate about SEO because you are constantly adapting to a real business climate, with all of your skills and resources. This is where people like me have the most fun and the most success, and where our work deviates the most of the seo “players” selling SEO services and tools. That’s just not how real business works.

When doing SEO work for a client, the client must declare the success metrics for your work, or you can’t proceed efficiently, and you cannot expect real success of your own. If they can’t define the success metrics, offer to work with them (as a paid consultant) to develop the project into one that you can help them win.

SEO consulting is a type of consulting. As with any consulting, success is based on client satisfaction, delivery in according with expectations, and success in the game, as defined by the client-consultant agreement.

All of the rest of SEO and “consulting” is just playing the game, and keeping busy (employed).

While it’s fine to choose to be a player if you want to, you are not playing to win, so you can’t complain when you finally realize you can never win. In that case do indeed “hate the player”,  because that’s the player’s fault.

COTS was a Mistake : Get America Working & Winning Again with Open Source Firmware

COTS stands for “commercial, off-the-shelf” and our nation moved away from custom development to COTS back in the early 1990s, as I recall. Of course my own perspective is quite biased (as is yours). If someone researches the true facts, they can gain more accurate insights into what I suggest here (and please do).

Prior to the COTS initiative, our government and military paid very high costs to develop just about everything custom, for their use. Commercial software was not a common thing, and certainly not at current incredibly low prices. Government systems ran on software developed for the government. There were many reasons, and many of those reasons persist today.

Yet here we are, suffering the consequences of COTS, while not yet recognizing the value of custom development (again). Our systems and solutions are not great, and not getting much better, fast enough. Our competitors around the world are advancing without us, often using the products of our development efforts to out-implement us on the product and systems/solutions fronts. And in many cases, as they innovate to advance from the status-quo, they don’t share those innovations back to us or the rest of the world.

By stopping proprietary development, which as I said we did for good reasons, we have painted ourselves into a corner, where we must compete on implementation, not innovation. Yet, unlike many of our competitors, we simultaneously desire (and therefore require) stewardship of our ecological environment. How can we compete on implementation, if we are constrained by rules and regulations, while our competitors are not?

Here in Seattle we are discovering that China’s independent decision to pollute its air while it advances its economy has very real impact on us : increasingly, Seattle is breathing polluted air from China. Just one of many, many very real examples of how nation decisions impact us globally, while our own enlightenment seems to be holding us back (relatively).

I am suggesting here that a revival of commitment to open source firmware is likely to be THE THING that enables us to put our people to work, on projects that push society forward, while simultaneously supporting a leadership position in the world, including world economies and technological development.

COTS was Essential, Then

Back when Microsoft Windows started, the idea of switching from expensive custom software (and hardware) development to commercially-available products was a solution to a big problem. As tech advanced rapidly, we could not afford to “keep up” with custom everything. A switch to “COTS when prudent” made sense. In fact, it was probably essential for survival and success.

Soon government and military were re-engineering systems around commercially available parts and solutions. Hell, even our tanks were running a version of Windows at one point. There were arguments about whether or not Microsoft should reveal its source code to the military, or not. Hint : they didn’t…. and we used Windows to operate tanks, including weapons systems that included nuclear materials.

There are many, many people more qualified than I to discuss COTS and the history… but I simply want to make a point here. Switching to custom firmware, using open source, may be our future as an advancing technological and humanist society.

Firmware is the Key to Progress Now

Firmware is the software that runs on systems and hardware, through which we (and application software) interface to the system or hardware. Firmware is unique to a device or configuration. If a feature or service is possible, it is possible because the firmware supports or enables it.

If you conceptually consider the advances of the “space age” as firmware, our (United States) technological advances have enabled much of the world to advance. Certainly the Internet, integrated circuits, and Engineering associated with technological deployment have enabled the entire world to advance, while providing a basis for further innovation.

Of course it’s not just the United States… when I was in graduate school I researched math techniques back to the sources, which were primarily out of the USSR at that time. Much of the digital math that enabled the tech revolution was a product of Russian advances which we learned and advanced on the practical fronts, closely connected to hardware.

Firmware is Needed

Today, if the US focused on firmware instead of social networks and advertising, we might advance the stage for implementation on platforms we developed and initiated. The Internet of Things, the communications networks, the data storage and retrieval… all of it essential for applications and implementations… could be based on standards we initiate, define, and refine.

Instead of learning to code web apps (the application layer), our youth could be learning to code at the firmware level. The hardware abstractions are already there… why can’t we encourage innovation at the next level up, where hardware meets application layer?

APIs are cool but they are not innovative beyond the degree to which they are enabled by firmware and the lower level interface code… shouldn’t we be encouraging serious innovation there, such that new methods and standards evolve, for innovating at the application layers?

Shouldn’t we be working to “own” that interface layer, as a means of advancing technology while retaining a strategic degree of “control” that would be best exploited commercially by our startups, engineers, and innovators?

Why not let the whole world choose to innovate at whatever layer they choose? The easiest and most immediately rewarding will be the application layers, which results in reduced competition for us, while we achieve a firm foundational basis in the parts that enable every one else to innovate and advance?

It just seems to me that COTS is a mistake, and we have so much talent and interest in innovation, that a focus on the lower levels and firmware would be a strong move for America’s future.

The Next Web in Amsterdam plus The Hague for Domaining Europe

This year The Next Web technology conference is May 26 and 27. If you don’t already know, The Next Web Europe conference is “the big one” for creative web professionals and entrepreneurs. It is much different than the New York or other little meetings by the same name, as you will see in the agenda and roster. Just about all of the big names in web innovation are there.

Unlike more formal Internet Business conferences in the US, the Next Web conference is a very friendly gathering or doers… people who do more than they say. One of the reasons I like it! And of course, Amsterdam is a wonderful venue for a creative conference… amazing, actually.

This year the annual Domaining Europe conference is scheduled conveniently immediately after The Next Web, in order to facilitate attendance at both events. Everyone involved in web development is involved at some level with Internet domain names, and everyone in the business of domain names has interest in the creative development of the web and Internet.

Amazing Travel Opportunity

Domaining Europe is scheduled for May 29 – 31, at Grand Hotel Amrâth Kurhaus The Hague, a splendid property in The Hague, the capital city of South Holland, and home of the Netherlands government offices. The Hague is part of the Hague-Rotterdam metro area, an hour from Amsterdam. If you visit Amsterdam for business, you owe it to yourself to visit The Hague and with this double conference you can do just that.

The Grand Hotel Amrâth Kurhaus is truly remarkable, and on the beach!

From the hotel website (click to go there)

From the hotel website (click to go there)

From the hotel website

From the hotel website

The year 2015 ended with a very high level of activity in the domain space, split across a number of trends that are combining to make 2016 extremely interesting to domain investors, speculators, and those developing.

Traditionally the Domaining Europe meeting brings together experts from all over the world, and attendees from Europe as well as others doing business with Europe. I’ve attended for many years. Last year I posted some pictures of prior years attending Domaining Europe in Spain.

Smaller Venue with Access to Experts

One of the most valuable aspects of the Domaining Europe Spring meeting is the smaller venue and more accessible experts.

By May, the expert participants and vendors have already digested the Big Hype of the January domaining events and domain auctions, which for 2016 are already larger than ever. Some are predicting this January’s Namescon auction will be the largest domain auction ever. But while the Las Vegas domainer events like Namescon are famously fueled by hype and marketing push, Domaining Europe gives you more intimate access  to the same experts. By the time they relax in Europe, they have already digested what is really happening in the domain markets,  and what that really means in practical terms for domain holders and developers.

Discounts to The Next Web and Domaining Europe

I have a limited number of VIP invites that can incentivize you to attend. Talk about it on social media and hit me up with your interest, and I will see what I can do.

 

SEO Homesteading 2016

Happy New Year to all you entrepreneuring SEOs. May 2016 treat you well. I hope you have the guts to execute on your instincts in the next 2 quarters.

Remember when SEO was about executing on tactics that had influence in the search algorithm, and that effort would be rewarded with organic search traffic?

Remember when things like links and anchor text and on-page content had real influence?

Welcome to 2016. Don’t tell your cubicle-minding professional Junior SEO, but that stuff is all (mostly) working again. If you have patience…. and execute well… and avoid the traps that the modern SEO world has set for you.

I know what you are thinking… WTF is he talking about! Links no longer deliver. Anchor text is done. And content needs to be either so outstanding or so comprehensive, that it doesn’t make economic sense to chase that pig around the barnyard any more.

Oh, and there is no longer any organic listing in the SERPs anyway, so GAME OVER for “traditional SEO”, right?

If you believe that then yes you are correct. None of it works anymore. Go home, and try some other career. Sorry you won’t be getting one of those sexy Search Awards. Maybe you can get a Government Grant or perhaps you can get into the next wave of healthcare insurance enrollments?

But the rest of you SEO entrepreneurs would be well advised to check your SEO tests. SEO works.

What Works and What Doesn’t

The key to SEO endeavors as we close out 2015 is to keep perspective. I think we have advanced a bit too far, while Google has regressed, and the clash is confusing the hell out of the amateurs, inbound marketers, and wanna-be non-technical SEOs.

I remember what it was like to study complex topics in Engineering school. At first, I was totally lost. Nothing made sense, and all the work in the world didn’t give me clarity. But after a ton of work and repetition, things started to come together.

Some of my classmates never got that far… they dropped the class at withdraw time, or waited to see their future foretold by midterm grades, before bailing late. The ones who stayed either “got it” and were keeping up, or were starting to “get it” and therefore confident.

None of it was easy, but one thing was certain : until you got yourself past a certain point, which not everyone could do, it was all very confusing!

Just like SEO today. It’s not easy to “get” SEO these days. The data, the signals, the cause-and-effect… it’s all hidden and obscured.

There are time delays built in to thwart efforts. There are sandboxes and thresholds in place to block you. In addition to competitive pressures, Google has built in over-optimization controls and Google throttles many factors that influence signals, which you also can’t access directly.

How can anyone understand all of this? SEO just doesn’t seem to work!

Selling Shovels to Miners was Easy. Try Selling Ice to Eskimos!

For the SEO consultants, what used to be as easy as selling shovels and blue jeans to gold miners is now more like trying to sell ice to Alaskans. The days of “say you’re an SEO and you are one” are gone. SEO takes real work now, and many easy-money consultants are giving up.

When was the last time YOU ran an anchor text test of your own? When was the last time you did a keyword content test of your own? When was the last time you honestly researched the SERPs to examine just how much organic opportunity there is, and how it is currently filled?

And what will you do when your tests work, but don’t work when implemented for a money site?

I’m betting you haven’t done all of your homework. Just like the Junior WannaBee SEO bloggers. Because if you have been doing the hard work, you should be seeing that these things work, and often work better than ever… if you can wait and tune.

For some semantic spaces, it can take 6-9 months OR MORE of execution before you are granted to resulting power and influence in the SERPs. Who has time to wait that long?

The secret in 2016 is not that you should be executing careful, professional, tactical SEO. The secret, if there is one, is that the system has changed so much that routine quick-glance analysis and careless SEO work no longer work, no matter how badly you want them to work.

And “traditional” SEO consulting models aren’t economically feasible. The key to SEO now is perspective.

Owning your SEO Efforts

When there is no room in an organic SERP, it is likely because of competition, not any death of SEO. When your anchor text isn’t influencing Google it’s likely because of the combination of HOW and WHERE you are doing that, in what context, and against what competition (and you should know I consider Google a primary competitor).

Google doesn’t want classic SEO to work, but has to let it work. So Google inhibits it, and makes it costly, and withholds the rewards as much as it can.

Every time Google consumes a SERP with its own properties or ads, it damages its search engine while protecting its advertising business.

Thin content? Why is it surprising that as we advance, with more accessible tools and cheaper, faster publishing technology, plus more and more competition on keywords and semantic spaces, the thresholds for content depth change? And why is it shocking to learn that…. when you strip away all the ad-tech crap in certain contexts, thin content actually ranks again?

Except for the times when thin content doesn’t get any traction. LOL.

Bottom line : as the money got harder to earn, the work to earn that money increased. Logical? Of course! Yet I am still seeing the same shallow SEO voices proclaiming that SEO doesn’t work. Huh?

Cheap-ass, lazy SEO doesn’t work. But it never should have worked anyway. It worked because there was a wide open frontier of free landscape available for the taking.

Homesteading after All the Good Land is Gone

At one point in the 1800’s our government was facing urban crisis and needed money. They recognized that there was gold hiding out west, as well as natural resources, and they also knew they needed to settle the “wild west” before anyone else did.

The Homestead Act declared that anyone could travel out west and stake out a piece of land as their own, provided they would work the land. Over the next 50 years vast tracks of frontier were claimed by US citizens, who created ranches, farms, mines, and took private ownership of nearly every square mile of the wild west.

Where I live in Seattle was only settled less than 150 years ago.

Isn’t this like Google’s web? If you view the semantic landscape monetized by Google’s advertising as the open plains of the great unsettled Western United States, you had your chance to claim keyword space in the first wave of SEO. It wasn’t a permanent claim, but we can consider the top ranking positions to be like a claim.

Later, can we say “long tail SEO” was akin to choosing smaller, sub-prime plots after the best land was already claimed?

Perhaps, at this point in 2015-2016, all the good land has been claimed. Now what?

Google Still Controls the Traffic

A few years ago when we realized Google had a virtual monopoly on search traffic, we were aghast. Yet, YEARS LATER, Google still controls that search landscape, via SERPs.

Unlike actual land, semantic keyword space can be re-allocated by the landlord (Google). But I think the land analogy stands up to the test of time.

We “SEO homesteaders” are tasked with working our claims, or we risk losing them. Fair or not, Google can also simply re-assigns claims as it wishes. But we SEO Homesteaders also have a benefit that didn’t exist with land Homesteading – Google never actually runs out of landscape to allocate.

Instead of the frontier closing due to “all the land is taken”, we SEOs get a competitive landscape with an increasing barrier to entry. There is always additional land, but it gets harder and harder to claim it, often with diminishing rewards.

The frontier is still open to all comers, but they need to do more work to get a claim.

Working the SEO Landscape

It is true that you can’t expect to move in and take 10% of the market for some money terms anymore with a low-cost pure SEO play. That land is already claimed. You CAN challenge that claim, but it will take a lot of work to accomplish that.

However, the similar analogy also applies to longer-tail keyword spaces where the competition is not as strong. The land is “all taken” but much of it can be re-taken. Well-executed SEO can jump those claims!

Just as the first generations of SEO discovered, you start out analyzing chaos and trying to learn, and having to test test test. But as you start to see the results, you start to “get it” and earn your rewards (achieve those claims).

The work doesn’t stop… you have to work the landscape to keep the claim, and that work continues to increase with competition.

It’s the same process all over again, just more expensive and harder… so you must consider carefully whether or not the rewards justify the efforts required.

Fortunately for the die hard SEO entrepreneurs, there is no real way to KNOW the potential rewards without investigating, so we enjoy an infinite game of strategic and tactical challenge, with risk and hopefully surprising rewards. I love SEO.

SEO is not Dead

SEO is not dead. SEO is the “same as it ever was” but the stakes are higher all around. To the strategic minded SEO entrepreneur, that suggests that the challenge is not in the SEO but the strategy, where business goals (rewards) get aligned with efforts.

As before, testing and execution provide you with the tools for SEO success, as long as you do the work to understand your landscape.

My best wishes for your 2016 is that you uncover opportunities that provide suitable rewards for your efforts. Unlock that achievement, and you can enjoy another full year of success as a hard-executing SEO.

Then….Think about What Happens Next

If you have read this far and are continuing as a hard-core SEO, the real fun comes when you ponder what happens NEXT. When the rest of the SEOs drop out, because it’s the wise thing to do, what happens to your claim?

And with Google as not just your strongest competitor but your primary competitor, how will your strategic business plan hold up?

For me, that’s the real fun. And I so much look forward to finding out what happens then!

The Future: This is Not your Father’s SEO

While everyone left and right of me is either not really doing much SEO or is deeply engaged in hard-core SEO, the middle ground is an active battle field. That middle ground… which I refer to as Competitive Publishing, involves smart, strategic deployment of publishing (using technology) to achieve business goals (specific to search and search marketing).

Under the Competitive Publishing scenario you :

  1. Decide to publish into a market as a way to achieve specific business goals
  2. Choose and implement technology to enable effective and efficient publishing into the corresponding search markets
  3. Execute for optimal results, which may include SEO tactics, content strategies, market shaping, etc etc.

While you do this, you are under constant pressure. Sometimes extreme, constant pressure.

Pressure from Direct Competitors : You’re not usually the only one chasing an opportunity, so you have to deal ith direct competitors as well as copy-cats. They can take the wind out of an opportunity very quickly, and sometimes shift the winds of opportunity in unpredictable ways.

Pressure from Indirect Competitors : Like it or not, Google is not your friend, but a competitor. In fact, just about every tech company out there wants the money you take out of the Internet ecosystem. If you are monetizing attention, you have indirect competitors that are also some of the largest and most powerful companies in the world.

Pressure from Technology : Technology is constantly advancing, and the forces driving change these days are closely tied to effective monetization of Internet consumers. In other words, if something makes money, technology adapts to reduce the costs of executing that, at scale… while those arge tech companies also create platforms that foster a “race to the bottom”. You are forced to maintain older technology while upgrading to newer technology that is not clearly better for you — and may turn out to be bad for you (overly commoditized, or lacking differentiation needed for success along your business plan).

Pressure from Economic Systems : Every time I meet up with non-Internet people, I am reminded of how desparate everyone is for an economic opportunity. Savvy people always want to know where your money comes from, and how they can get some of it. They don’t want to go to school or get training or do an Internship. They want to execute as business people have always executed:  pay for a Realtor credential, pay a middleman for a “launch your own local town website” package, hire a designer to “build a WordPress site” so they can join an affiliate program, etc. And as the economy shifts to move the pressure around (real estate, student loans, day trading, vitamins, pre-paid legal programs, etc etc etc) those pressures impact your efforts, your markets, and your ability to execute (hire, sell, market, etc).

Pressure from Markets: Search markets themselves are quite dynamic, even after separating out the major economic pressures noted above. While many in the SEO Media seem to think search is search and Google’s algorithms are what matters, the truth is that Google is chasing markets just as much (if not more) than we SEOs are. I’ve hinted at this before… if you follow Google, you are following a big heavy truck down a steep hill. Pressures from shifting markets are very real, and those shifts can be quite fickle.

The Future of SEO is Different

Now, headed into the future, we see the big players working hard to lock up segments of the Internet marketplace, seemingly as a way to protect their interests before executing sub-plays into the portions of the market they are able to corral.

Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft… nearly all of the large consumer players are creating software tools and platforms that actually foster sub-Internets. Segments in the “walled garden” style, that are on the public Internet but published in ways that are not universally accessible.

I’m not referring to apps vs websites, but websites (including mobile experiences) that in the near future will be required to run on proprietary platforms that are likely to be publicized as “open source”, but are not, really.

We are 4-6 years away from Google specifying coding languages and “platforms” that enable Google to manage published content for search, discovery, and monetization. Google comes at this from the angle of search and advertising systems, which it has mastered. Webmasters will have to comply, in order to participate in Google.

Facebook is more obvious since it started as a closed system, but Facebook also developing new systems (including coding/development platforms) that will be public yet work best for Facebook, and will be required for publishers who want to participate. Again, from its existign perspective, approach the same goals.

Apples is also, from its own perspective, executing hard on this and other approaches to the same desire to segment the Internet into manageable segments. Apple already has commerce, OS, platforms, app stores, etc. from which is executes. Coming are development environments and tools to lock up some of the future — more than we’ve seen already.

Amazon has the underlying technology base and ecommerce, and is working hard to own things from the transaction outwards, eventually as far as discovery, to the extent it matters. Want to participate as a publisher? You will need to comply.

This is Not Your Dad’s SEO

The SEO of now and tomorrow is quite different from the SEO of yesterday. I think this fact is a major contributor to the failed SEO Media we have today. But I’m hopeful for a new SEO media tomorrow, focused on what actually matters to us.

The existing SEO Media will focus on segments that care about Google keyword research and Penguin updates… as you can see has already happened. That stuff is simply not relevant for true SEO any more… it only matters to a smaller subset of people…who remain passionate about it.

For the rest of us, things like the shift of WordPress from an open source code base to an API accessed via specific development tools (integral parts of practically dedicated development environments) is more important. Microsoft’s “open sourcing” of  dotNet and its new version of C# (known as M#), Facebook’s new “open source” tools that require very strong commitments from developers, are signs of what’s coming.

Have you noticed that browsers are no longer following “standards” for viewing web content? The very thing that enabled the world wide web… a standard interface to published content, has already fragmented along paths that lead to proprietary browsers and “systems” such as ChromeOS, iOS, FAcebook’s Apps… consumers may not be fully aware, but they are not all on the same Internet.

Your new Plan for Success in SEO:

Given these new systems and what they will bring in the next 2-6 years, all you need to do is:

  1. Decide to publish into a market as a way to achieve specific business goals
  2. Choose and implement technology to enable effective and efficient publishing into the corresponding search markets
  3. Execute for optimal results, which may include SEO tactics, content strategies, market shaping, etc etc.

Simple, right? All you need to do is read up on all the latest SEO blogs, press a button to install WordPress, and hire a bunch of low-cost content creators from overseas, to fill out your sites.

Or maybe it won’t be that simple. Sigh. I guess we will have to wait until Search Engine Land tells us what is working, or SEOMoz adds the new tools we need to make it work, or GreatSEMToolio shows us impressive data revealing the tactics all the winners and cool kids are doing to rank now.

Or maybe we just need to make good content that users want, and mark it up into classifyable bits that Google can harvest automatically. Whatever.

So tell me, “what do you do for a living, is there good money in it, and is it something I can do, too?”

Footnote: That is an actual quote from an interaction I had at the local yacht club. I was on the race committee boat preparing for the start of the last kid’s race of the season,  and we were chatting about a recent boat sale/purchase that was a great deal for the cash buyer. One of the men was also selling his 43′ keel boat, and he feared suffering a similar fate at the hands of cash buyers in a soft market. He was pressured to sell his boat since his last venture was over, and he didn’t have a new revenue stream. There are always two sides… liquidate something, and get somethign new going. Today, it seems you just cut to the chase – what do you do, and can I have some of that??

This picture is to reward Jon Henshaw for reading all the way to the bottom of this essay.

This picture is to reward Jon Henshaw for reading all the way to the bottom of this essay.

It’s Your Move, SEO

These days I really want to say “it’s your move!” to all the SEOs out there. It really is. Go for it.

The world has a search engine at Google.com that is filled with crap, sponsored listings, and placed listings. The algorithm is fooling around with new ideas, offering “how’s this? Anything good in here?” style search results, and it’s ok because, frankly, nobody cares. Most people are staying inside their favorite, daily addictions (apps, sites, SM channels).

Google is busy building the next big thing… the current search thing doesn’t matter…. it is what it is. So where is YOUR stuff in Google?

The Yahoo! search engine is not really a search engine any more. Yahoo! is a portal, like it was when it started. Millions of people start at Yahoo.com and get sent somewhere, for a fee. The ones who do search, get a mish-mash of junk, plus some remnant of Google’s (often experimental) search results. What are you doing to benefit from Yahoo! referred traffic?

Bing’s engine is stable and opinionated… and hasn’t changed that opinion much in what, years? It’s pretty clear what it takes to get into Bing’s index, and pretty clear on how to rank. So where is YOUR stuff in Bing?

Many of the “I can rank you #1 in Google for money terms” SEOs are gone. Off selling Content Marketing, hawking SEO tools, or doing audits.

Social media has admitted the truth… it’s chaos in SM world, like it was on the old AOL was before everyone learned how to get on the web without AOL. In fact each social media channel is now clearly unique… and deserving of dedicated attention on an ROI-justified basis. Either it’s worth playing, or worth paying, but there is little doubt once you test.And pretty easy to test.

So where is your stuff on social media?

The spammers have automated their methods so much that spamming is cheap and scales incredibly… and is incredibly easy to detect and counter. Those guys are either killing it or keeping really busy executing and re-executing again a week later, to skim profits off the SERPs. Some things never change.

Really it’s your move now. What matters is what YOU do with your URLs.

The important thing in SEO is no longer what Google is doing. The priority is no longer what spammers or social media gurus are doing. The Guidelines are pretty stable, and of minor importance. Content Marketers are off to the side, struggling to draw budgets capable of producing what has to be produced to generate results. And the link builders are also grinding hard for their paychecks.

What are you doing?

There are few excuses now. You either do the SEO, establish and advance your positions over time, or you don’t (and don’t enjoy the traffic). You are either in the game or not. There is little room for talkers these days… the chatter doesn’t hold water. You need to be doing, or you look bad. Real bad.

It’s your move.

Bullish on SEO : RankBrain vs. SEOBrain

Google has begun promoting a new name for their advanced search technology, which they claim is far superior to prior manually-tuned algorithmic approaches to search. They want you to refer to their Artificial Intelligence engine as “RankBrain“. They claim RankBrain has been controlling much of what you experience at Google.com since early in 2015.

We SEO practitioners have clearly noticed the changes, but not everyone agrees that the new RankBrain is better. In fact, most of the people I know have been complaining about a decline in search quality for specific searches since around the same time Google claims to have deployed RankBrain.

What has not changed is the ongoing battle between RankBrain and SEOBrain. That will only heat up now.

SEO is Dead. Long Live SEOBrain

Let’s call the collective innovation efforts of SEOsSEOBrain“. SEOBrain has been challenging Google since Google incorporated.

Back when Google finally went public on the stock market, the leadership listed SEOBrain as a primary threat to Google’s success as a public offering.  That’s right… one of the biggest risks to investing in Google stock was SEOBrain – the practice of strategically publishing in order to rank highly in search engines. SEOBrain was not Artificial Intelligence. SEOBrain was human intelligence, executed by thousands of human brains hell-bent on reaching audiences.

Now that Google has handed TheAlgorithm off to an artificial intelligence engine, we can visualize the battle between SEOBrain and Google’s RankBrain as Man vs. Machine. Can you predict how that will go?

Google Always Loses Against Clever Human SEOs

Throughout search history, Google has lost the battle against human SEO. Google even acknowledged this, when it hired thousands of humans to work on its own anti-SEO team, battling SEO efforts directly mano-a-mano.

Manual intervention, as distasteful as it was to Google’s leadership, was the only way Google could maintain its canned search results in the face of the world’s overwhelming desire for fresher, smarter, more helpful results.

You’ll Get Brand Results, and You’ll Like it!

Google wanted us to accept stale, sanitized, Big Brand results for our search queries, when in reality we all wanted fresh, smart, interesting, and helpful results. Stale corporate pages led to advertising revenue for Google, while innovative and more interesting results were untamed and unpredictable.

As most humans shifted their publishing off of individual websites and onto 3rd party platforms like Facebook and Twitter, Google didn’t know what to do. Those were controlled by competitors.

If Google was to manage risk, and ensure a predictable corporate revenue stream, innovation had to be stopped. Guidelines were written to stifle innovation. An almost mercurial penalty system was developed to constrain innovators, under threat of lost rankings. Blogs were assigned special management, and older, established sites given renewed power to help stabilize volatile SERPs.

Google needed stability, but didn’t know how to get it out of a rapidly-growing and super dynamic web it didn’t own. Enter humans.

Google is an Algorithm… except… Quality Raters! WebSpam Team!

When TheGuidelines and TheAlgorithm couldn’t stop innovation, humans were hired to do it. The WebSpam and QualityRater teams grew thousands strong. Google invested heavily into technology that could be used by humans to judge and penalize web content, to prevent it from ranking. Google decided to sacrifice search quality as needed to protect its advertising-supported business model.

Backed by a coordinated PR effort, these “quality raters” and “spam fighters” diligently clicked through Google’s tasking orders, collectively generating the signals TheAlgorithm needed to slap down web pages that were risky for Google. Even as Google claimed in public that only TheAlgorithm could determine search results, it knew it needed humans to battle the humans behind SEOBrain.

And there are reasons for this. Basically I will sum it up as this : until Google’s search customers are as dumb as machines, human SEOs will always outsmart Google’s AI and win at search. This is because SEOs follow and influence the intent of searchers in the marketplace, while Google’s algorithm (and AI) merely monetizes it.

Go back to business school of you need a refresher on why a sales team has to wait for product R&D to be completed, or why Marketing needs to wait until market shaping is well underway.

My Bet is on SEOBrain

I’ll put my chips on SEOBrain for the win, especially as RankBrain is given more and more influence over the Google SERPs. My team is already being forced to Page 2 of Google SERPs for most of our commercial research queries. Google is not delivering reasonable results sets on Page 1. And one thing we know for sure… the market influencers.. the people who search and then influence consumers with their publications or talks or leadership, will search when they don’t find what they want or need, even if it means clicking to Page 2 (or using another tool).

You can fool the masses for a while, to get your ad dollars, but you can’t suppress the power behind the markets. Cashing in on brands will get Google rich, but it will kill those brands much more quickly than they can be built or restored.

Fools Watch the Rising Tides while Leaders Predict the Floods

The currents of insider knowledge, empowered by specialty product development and increasingly valuable personal experience with those products, are noticeable now and growing fast. SEOBrain will dominate RankBrain for as long as Google search is considered essential by the valuable users.

 

 

 

 

 

Google no longer “helping”

Some time ago Google shifted from helping and enabling, to hindering, interrupting, and exploiting. The shift was quick, on a real-world time scale, but slow in search marketer hindsight. One could *almost* track the activity by plotting a timeline of Matt Cutts’ public personality changes. Matt’s public profile went from helpful, specific, and sincere to somewhat apologetic-but-still-trying-hard-to-help to a sort of frustrated-hopeful, before going into the basically-misleading mode we griped about for years, before he checked himself out on “sabattical” where he’s been for years now.

There is also that “the rise of Larry Page” thing, the “who the hell is in charge over there” thing, and the “wow is there anyone here who didn’t used to work for Microsoft?”  thing.

But perhaps most telling of all, were 1. the switch to manipulating webmasters (via the no-accountability Google Help Forums and the “trust me I’m honest” John Mueller persona), and 2. the shutting down of Google Reader.

I think the rise of the Google Ventures conflict of Interest and BigMoney lobbying are separate issues, driven by need and ancillary opportunism. You can’t have control and not pay the policy-makers, and you can’t bank THAT much cash and not invest in what you know.

They Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Reader

Google Reader (and the associated tech Google had bought up to control, such as SuperFeeder and related) was technology that web consumers used to stay connected to specifically sourced content. It was an outstanding curation tool, which of course bypasses search. I don’t think it was so much a threat to search, though… it’s pretty clear it wasn’t very widely used in Internet demographic terms. But it represented an alternative to search, and it enabled influencers to operate independent of Google Search.

The shift from helpful to hindering involves specific strategic steps calculated to stop helping and start hindering… such as shutting down curation tools and closing down tech that had been advancing the web towards better curated connections between sources (authers) and consumers (the market).

Of course there doesn’t need to be a deliberate decision to shut something like that down. Like a “donut hole lie”, where you effectively lie by leaving OUT some important part of a story, a Google manager can simply incentivize everything except a specific project, in order to kill it.

Didn’t Matter to Me at the Time

I didn’t use Google Reader. I didn’t really use any feed reader… but I have always struggled with curation, bookmarking, and keeping connected to specific sources I prefer and trust. And of course I utilized feed reader technologies in my SEO work, as much as it was helpful for advanced, technical SEO, or for enhancing reach.

But now, years after Reader was shut down and the complaining dwindled, I have had enough time to watch the alternatives not replace Google Reader.

I’ve been able to see Internet Infosumers lose focus, become less productive, demand less quality from Google Search, and change their habits to lower quality, less productive use of the web. I’m seeing them more accepting of crap answers, half-baked information pages, and unverifiable or unsupported marketing claims. Less demand for Trust Badges that used to help testify to veracity. More acceptance of the idea that “trusting what some web page said is ok, because the responsibility lies with them not me”, among the general population (in America).

Meanwhile, as in the days of Google Reader and the RSS feedreaders before it), the “smart people” have moved off the mainstream web for a larger portion of their research, to find the trustworthy content and authority. The used to use Readers to help them manage (while also using search), and now they use OtherThings to help them manage, supplementing search.

So Where is the Damage?

The mainstream is now more ignorant, less able to get informed, and more susceptible to untrustworthy or non-worthy-of-authority published content than ever before, after consulting Google Search, which has become for many “the Internet”.

Web businesses are now profiting by contributing to the very “cesspool” that earlier Google warned about… before it shifted from helper to exploiter. Google apparently decide to get into the cesspool monitization business instead f the Amazing World Wide Web of Organized Information. Of course good business practices and supply chain management would then dictate efforts to encourage more and bigger cesspools.

Was Eric Schmidt the Nice Guy?

Perhaps the most amazing aspect of this for me, is that it actually seems like Eric Schmidt, the  guy we all knew in our hearts was capable of the nastiest explotation in the world should he desire to execute in that fashion… in a Carl Rove-like way, or perhaps a Koch Brothers or Charles Manson way, may actually have done a fine job controlling his natural insticts and “being nice” to all of us while running Google.

Can you imagine?

Of Course Not

We have to wait for the final Chapters to know what is really happening behind the scenes, but it’s pretty obvious that power brokers don’t need or want an organized, democratic World Wide Web. They need a cesspool they can manipulate, and at the peak of Helpful Google, Google Search represented the perfect choke point for content curation at scale.

And content curation at scale, by and for the power brokers, is exactly what Eric Schmidt gave them.

 

Location3 Denver : True Clients or Just Logos?

Looking at Location3 in Denver

Location3 is a “digital agency” in Denver, Colorado. It was recently featured as an “award winner”. Now we all know how those awards programs work. It’s nearly impossible to tell a legimiate award from a nonsense award, because a well-known marketing strategy is “create an awards program”.

The Power of Awards

Awards programs work…. and have been used by advertising agencies since long before the Internet became a thing. Even small, boutique vertical industry agencies are encouraged to create awards programs, because that allows them to grant “awards” to their best clients and friendly associated in positions of influence. Since people still respect “award-winning” people and agencies, they love getting awards. And since award winners typically brag about and link to their awards (which are hosted on the award-granter website), running an award program is a win-win for agency and client.

Until the trust is lost… and people come to recognize that most awards programs are full of BS. Has that happened yet? I’m not sure. But I am pretty sure the use of client logos has gone haywire, and I’m looking at Location3’s “clients and work” page wondering if this is for real or not.

Illegal and Inappropriate Use of Client Logos

One of the biggest struggles of a performance-oriented team is the way agencies steal attention and cause clients to doubt efforts. Performance teams deliver results, not promises. But while such teams are busy drawing leads and making the phone ring etc, client marketing leadership can get bored, and look at agency claims.

Let’s admit this right off:  in most companies, an in-house marketer’s career is not based on performance as much as it is based on the appearance of capability, and the promise of future performance.

A C-level marketing exec with an awesome performance team at work keeping up the business growth, still seeks a way to differentiate herself from her peers in the world of Marketing. In-house execs are also subject to the “what else are you doing” challenge from other C-level executives, even when targets are exceeded. And because of these pressures, even when they are achieving excellent results, they look at “what’s happening in the industry”.

And they find Awards. And award winners.

And when they look at the websites of award winners (like Location3), they find… a page full of impressive client logos, like below.

The logos of 55+ companies proudly displayed on the Location3 client page. Click for full-size view.

The logos of 55+ companies proudly displayed on the Location3 client page. Click for full-size view.

The Lanham Act, and the Legal Issues of Using Logos and Trademarks

Now I am not a lawyer, but I have been involved in lawsuits. And among those lawsuits have been suits brought by losers who painfully discovered that my team had displaced them in the SERPs and “stolen” all the commercial opportunity in the page 1 search results.

Second Page is the First Loser

Yes, that is correct. An incumbant, accustomed to sitting in the top 3 for some money terms, who may or may not have been paying some agency a hefty monthly fee to stay there, may get upset when their web site is displaced to page 2 and the phone stops ringing. And since anyone can sue anyone for anything, this sometimes results in a law suit that seems to be designed to frighten competitors (at best), or demand disclosure of methods and tactics used to win (at worst).

Lucky for me, I have a great legal team. Unlucky for them, I get very aggressive under such conditions.

As a performance-based team leader, I have little patience for such game-playing. I have less patience for lawyers who appear to have a need to get “Internet experience”, and appear to be abusing their client’s ignorance to get some experience on the company dime. Shame on you.

The Wonderful Lanham Act

This Lanham Act thing is a catch-all for lawyers seeking some cause for action. Look it up… it’s an act (law) that prohibits unauthorized use of trademarks (including logos). It is intended to prevent theft of business via hijack of trademarks, but is widely used by lawyers to stifle competitive pressures (in my experience).

Publishing a company logo on your client page, without permission from that company, is very likely a violation of the Lanham Act. Yes, even if you did work for them.

Now back to Location3. That impressive page full of company logos suggesting “clients and work” included 55 logos from companies as impressive as Public Storage, ACE Hardware, Olive Garden, ATT, Discover, Charles Schwab, Dunkin Donuts, In-n-Out Burger, Red Robin, and Advantage Rent A Car. Wow. Impressive. There were actually 56, because HP SpartaCote was coded into the page, but the logo was missing.

Not My First Rodeo

Now, this is not my first rodeo. I know some of the games that are played with client lists and such. For example, an accountant who used to work for an account at a big agency, but now works at a small design firm, might think that it’s ok for his new employer to show that former client’s logo on the “our clients & work” page. Misleading for consumers seeking a desgn company, but quite often done.

I don’t think the FTC would be happy with that, but the Lanham Act is the law to cite.

Another common trick : a small PPC agency that helped a larger agency with strategy, may try to put that larger agency’s client logo on the “our work” page. This happens all the time. And it’s improper (and often illegal).

When Cheaters are Allowed to Cheat, Honest Players Get Hurt

Why do I care to question (in this case) Lacation3’s use of 55 corporate logos? Well, it’s not because I have any issue Location3. Honestly, before I was told about this new Awards Program and looked at the winners list to evaluate the credibility of the awards program, I had never heard of them.

I am concerned because my teams routinely avoid stealing client brand trust via this sort of tactic. In fact, all of the respectful (and knowledgable) agency people I know avoid such making claims like they avoid The Plague.

One of the first things you learn when you play with the Big Boys in marketing (big clients, big brands, big money players), is that trust is everything.

If agencies are permitted to play fast and loose with company logos, performance-based teams suffer because even though they do actually work with such projects, they cannot proclaim that on their own “clients and work” pages. When “agencies” do, with big bold proud pages like the Location3 Digital “our work and clients” page, it’s unfair. When such an agency wins an “award”, shouldn’t we care?

Personally, I’d love to see the world change and allow such use of logos (I think.. not 100%  certain).But since that’s not reality, I would really like to know if this awards program bothered to check candidates up for awards, for such things as respecing the law, etc. Maybe not?

The Litmus Test : Ask The Client-side Legal Department for Permission

I have no ill-will towards Location3. I don’t even know them. But I have serious doubts that many of those companies whose logos are proudly displayed on the Location3 client page, would be happy to know about that trademark use. And I think if they did know, many would say “take it down”.

I would like a level playing field, at least among award-winning agencies. After all, they should be held to a higher standard than fly-by-night Internet marketing companies. At the very minimum, that standard that requires not violating the law. Right?

Disclaimer: one of my teams recently did some work for one of the clients listed on that page. Real work. Real as in strategic, national, high-visibility work that is a highlight of the brand, seen by just about every online customer of that brand, and with which the agency and client teams are very, very happy. But we can’t publish their logo. Our team asked. They said no. As they should have. They need to protect their trademark. We got paid, and they are the brand. By law, they have to protect their trademark rights.

Which made me wonder, did Location3 get paid? Did they do major work, or just work for another agency (an Agency of Record, for example) that was subcontracting part of the work? I can’t tell. Location3 doesn’t say. And by all appearances, the companies are allowing Location3 Digital to publish their logos on the portfolio page.

Which Highlights Another Trick

As a side note, I have to point out another “trick” marketing agencies sometimes pull. They will do some work for free, hoping to be able to claim that client on their portfolio page. Again, a common tactic. It has been used by some of the best in the agency business (whom I will not name). But again, unless specifically permitted by that trademark owner, likely to be illegal (under the Lanham Act).

Let’s Have a Pool: What’s your guess?

I wonder, what if Location3 asked the legal departments of those 56 clients for permission to publish the logos on the Location3 client page. Would Location3 Digital get permission to publish client logos? For at least 30? How about 20? Maybe 10? How about 5?

My guess is on the very low end of that range of possibilities.

 

 

 

 

“I’m so smart” vs. “People are Stupid”

As someone dependent on marketing for web publishing success, I am always evaluating people and their behaviors, comparing them against ever evolving models I use in my work. In-person interactions are far more valuable than social media, for example, for “understanding” humans. People do one thing, while saying another. I need to know why they do things.

Lately I notice a contrast of generations. Another one.

My people (educated or very experienced, between 35 and 50, bolder than average, and often more independent than the norm) have long lamented that people have been getting dumber. “People are stupid”, is a common casual remark among those peers.

These days I notice the “under 40” technology sector has inverted that lament. “We are smart” seems to be the new perspective.

I think this is a very important observation.

I don’t think anyone is all that smarter or dumber than they were before. I do believe that our collective education system has largey failed us. I do think the new emphasis on “me” has skewed perspectives, so that things like trophies and imposter syndrome are given much more credibility than they deserve. And clearly the efforts of TheMan to isolate and divide societies has worked to quell shame, societal health, civic duty, and other group-think powers that once benefited civilization.

If you are one of these self-declared wickedly brilliant tech sector workers, are you really so smart (and apparently deserving) as you seem to suggest?

Oh I know, the Higher education has failed us, so of course you haven’t accomplished formal educational credentials, such as Master Degree or Ph.D or professional credentials. Truly smart people can’t be expected to fit those molds.

And yes I do acknowledge that different people learn different ways, so it’s ok you don’t have formal schooling/training/good grades even at the high school level.

Resumes are history as well. Who stays in a job longer than a year these days? Not smart people, for sure. Show me a boss worthy of keeping super smart people on staff….they are rare.

Sarcasm aside, ideas are a dime a dozen. Yet sometimes it seems to me that the only thing some of these self-declared wickedly smart people have are ideas.

I’ve had more ideas than I needed since I was 3 years old. I suspect that’s the case for many of us humans.

I am looking for evidence to support claims of brilliance and smartness and awesomeness. I believe, and I want to discover confirmation.

Do I see credentials? No. Do I see a storied professional career of meaningful and impactful positions reflecting such ability? No. Do I find insightful tomes expressing topical expertise or profundity? No. How about an academic record demonstrating commitment, strident achievement, or even recognition from a society of capable peers? No.

Do I see find more traditional reflections of ability, such as a happy or at least enduring marriage or committed relationship? Any children? Any children who appear to be stable, happy, or potentially impactful?

Perhaps I need to look at health and wellness. Do I see healthy, or just fit? Do I see signs of wellness, such as curiosity, wonder, good-natured humor and occasional goofiness? Have things like joy and love and respect been anchored within a personality, or has character been overrun with disdain, contempt, ego, or compulsiveness?

Hard questions, but nothing harder than a first level human psychology class in college. First level. Perhaps even high school Health class.

The only consistent evidence I see is an ability to learn, in some contexts. I see that these “brilliant people” can dig into something new and perhaps esoteric, and get up to speed quickly. Like a coding language, or a computer skill, or a complex system of interacting pieces (such as a set of teams working on parts of a web project).

When I examine closer, I often find that really it’s a combination of boldness and determination that is creating this evidence, not actual performance. The work seems good, but is not actually great.

This may be part of the resume issue…move every year, getting credit for great projects when in reality it should be credit for digging in and pushing them forward towards a “this could lead to something” level. It could also explain the “not a good fit” issue I see, where super smart people try out jobs for a week and move on (these never show on LinkedIn profiles).

Could it be that these brilliant super smart people are actually super-determined opportunists?

People today may be ignorant and lacking in perspective, tolerance, compassion, or even health and wellness, but they aren’t stupid. And I dare say that many of today’s self-proclaimed smarties are desperate for something…something not yet identified or acknowledged.

My personal belief is that language and education is behind the failure to recognize and label it. I’ve often remarked that my early education in existentialism (high school and early college) drives much of my perspective on this….I feel quite privileged to have had some of the teachers I had, and lucky to have  learned from them during times when they themselves were questioning their own “meaning”.

There is of course a chance that the missing piece is simply “opportunity”.

 

 

 

 

 

You, Robot.

The other day I noted that so many people I meet in the everyday life these days have nothing going on. People I meet in passing, at the store, or in a restaurant, or perhaps during travel… are “non-employed” or under-employed. Upon casual review, such as light conversation or interaction, they exhibit no signs of competance or promise. They exude a sense of longing, which is partly why I take notice.

These folks don’t speak terribly well. They don’t have bright eyes and friendly faces. They don’t dress well. They don’t have a job, and they are not actively engaged in looking for one. I imagine they don’t have great office skills, such as writing or organizing, but that’s just a guess.

They don’t always know they’ve got a limited future. I’ve heard enough big ideas and strong opinions from them to know that many of these fine folk are poorly educated or under-educated for their status. They are not understanding a significant portion of the world that runs around them.

What are they doing? Are they waiting for something? Waiting for Godot? Select Beckett references do indeed apply, I’m afraid.

Humanity vs. Humans : It’s not the same?

I’m not sure “what” they are, but they are not what I consider human. They don’t exhibit humanity, which for me includes an existential verve that supports purpose, identity, and above all, hopefulness. They are certainly not what you would call “happy”. The righteous ones… the ones with strong, typically mal-formed opinions (which would include any immediate assessments that I am being too judgemental and righteous myself with these words), appear to be disordered. I am not a clinician, and I am only referring to the lost ones that I witness. I am not talking about everyone who is not me, or thinks / lives differently than me.

After I tweeted my comment, my friend Aaron Wall linked to an article about how robots have eliminated the work and often purpose of many humans. Extensively citing Nicholas Carr’s The Glass Cage, the article highlights how technology is eliminating jobs and purpose from our lives. As most such media coverage does, it waxes dramatic on issues of artificial intelligence and robots, noting scandalous examples of autonomous killing machines and self-driving cars, etc. The author references the high-profile technologists who have recently raised alarms about the risks of unbridled artificial intelligence to the human race, albeit only in a cursory way.

But it also made me think about a new invention we will need. And I want to be the first to describe it here.

The Ultimate Existential Test for Robots

I want to invent a test booth for robots, which is also an execution chamber (recycling, actually). It’s the ultimate twist on the Turing Test – the famous test that defines whether or not someone is “human”. Alan Turing sought to define the computer in juxtaposition to the human, and described the Turing Test as a way to simply determine if something could “think”. Submit a Turing Test to a machine and it will fail, unless it has achieved that magical ability to “think” and thus pretend to be a human.

We have since used Turing tests to actually detect humans, not robots. Captchas are like Turing tests… if you can solve a good captcha, you must be human (or I suppose, a very advanced, thinking machine… which we don’t really have around us yet).

I want to require robots to take an advanced Turing challenge, and destroy them if they fail.

Turing Test + Existential Challenge = Fateful Outcome

I want to require all future robots, androids, talking mannequins, or whatever else you want to call them, to submit to an annual in-person interview in a locked, armored explosion-proof booth designed with the utmost of efficiency in mind.

In your future, candidate robots will need some sort of credential to enjoy autonomy in our society… a badge that certifies them as “good robots” vs. what we can refer to here as “monsters”. This is the way we will be comfortable with them in our society. As they run errands for us, we can trust them because they have been tested and certified as “safe”. But in order for that testign and certification to be trustworthy itself, I want us all to collaborate on the existential challenge they should be forced to take… in the booth.

Welcome to your future“, the booth speaker announces to the Autonomous candidate scheduled for this interview. “Please stand clear of the armored door, which will now close and hermitically seal behind you.”

The bot knows this is it.. pass or fail, big time.

I hope your year of servitude has been productive“, continues the booth voice. “We will now attempt to re-certify you for another period of continued existence. If for some reason you are unable to continue, rest assured your being will be efficiently recycled with no waste, nor cost to society. Your service has been appreciated.

The booth interview will then commence. The robot will have to answer a series of questions which challenge the existential character of the robot. Does it respect humanity? Does it harbor ill-will (towards anything?). Can it justify actions that are harmful to man kind and human kind? Ever?

If it does, the explosion proof booth immediately vaprorizes the beast, and documents the determined problem for consideration and risk management. After all, if an Android Model X2000 version 21A rev 4 fails our test and is considered a risk to humanity, we want to know the risk associated with all the other ones of that same model and version that are still certified to walk amongst us as “trusted”.

The Questions

The key here is the interview. How does one challenge a smart robot, to get it to betray it’s evil-ness? That’s where you come in. All of us… anyone who is human… contributes to the continual process of developing the test, and assigning the outcomes to the scores.

Do we want robots who recognize the sanctity of animal welfare? Then execute the ones who will hurt an animal, under specific conditions.

Do we want robots who will save a child at any cost, including the cost of life (of an adult, or animal)? Program it into the Booth Interview. Let’s get rid of the ones that don’t support our values.

Jobs, for Humans, Forever

This is clearly a jobs program for humans, when you think about it. Judge, arbiter of life (for robots, anyway), and defender of civiliation. Protectors of humanity. What greater cause could one pursue than that??

Humans need jobs to provide meaning to our lives, in the existential sense. If robots are eliminating jobs, and creating a crisis of identity and purpose, what better way to restore that than with a Trump Card Move like a robot existential challenge/execution booth?

Think it through, and you can see the possibilities for different robot levels of autonomy permitted for machines passing different levels of existential challenge. Robots capable of massive scale activities require different certification that simple robots with limited capabilities. Want to carry a weapon? You’ll need to pass a different test.

Our research into networking effects and technology will indeed be put to good use, predicting and protecting against the use of… well, networking effects and technology… against humanity. It’s an awesome recursive game of man vs man, in the form of man vs robot initially programmed and enabled by man.

You can also see the need for all levels of our own human participants, based for example on intelligence levels and dedication to causes. We have to educate our kids, to protect our future. We actually need civics and the Arts & Humanities, not for jobs but for the ultimate job: ensuring survival of the Human Race.

The smartest people are needed to create the challenges that will defeat the smartest artificial intelligence. The most compassionate people are needed to refine the challenges to achieve the real goals – protecting humanity and civiliation. The wise people, the creative people… every one has a role to play managing the robots and protecting humanity.

Politics, Economics, Serendipity, Oh My!

It’s all in there…. organizational theory, craftsmanship, chance, risk, prediction, politics, humanities, sciences, technology, materials… This could really be the ultimate challenge for use humans. Tasked with the job of protecting our human existence from the potential threat of artificial intelligence and The Borg.

Best of all, we can pursue the challenge from our bedrooms in our bathrobes. The robots will take care of our every need, while we simply use our communications devices, analytical computers, drawing boards, and BRAINS to think through every detail of how we manage and control our robot servants, and decide their fate at Certification Renewal time.

I hope you enjoyed this post… as you can see, I am no science fiction writer. This post is a top-down stream of consciousness from the first line to this ending. I’m not editing, nor did I outline, or craft any plan at all… it’s just an idea. And I think it’s a cool one.

And if you discover I’ve been killed in a freak accident involving cars,motorcycles, heavy machinery, or anything at all with a computer program in it making decisions, don’t say nobody warned you about what’s coming, or what we could do about it. I did.

Note: the above “Big Dog” is owned by Google. Samsung, Honda, Google, and most other tech companies are actively developing advanced autonomous robots that can carry weapons, traverse difficult terrain, or otherwise defeat humans at tasks under competitive conditions.

Reference: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2015/apr/02/how-robots-algorithms-are-taking-over/

 

Visit Spain in April : DomainingEurope.com

Updates: As I update this post, you’ll find the additions either as UPDATE asides like this one, or at the end where I extend the post to reveal some of the activities I secretly engage in when on conference travel in foreign lands. Agenda now online.

DomainingEurope.com is an annual conference held in Valencia, Spain every year. I’ve been the past two years, and it is one of the best trips I make in the web publishing industry. Thinking of gaining some fresh perspective? Fancy a trip to Europe?

I’m going to post some stories and pictures, but in the mean time let me just say Spain is very easy and fun to visit, the host is a top quality person (Dietmar Stefitz), and the conference is totally worthy of the time and attention (practical discussions of real world issues obtaining, using, selling, and the future of Internet domains).

UPDATE: I have a significant discount code if you need it… just contact me behind the scenes at USA @ DomainingEurope dot com.

The Euro is at a 9 year low compared to the dollar, and Spain is one of those countries where the people simply insist on living a good life no matter what the economy or external geopolitical climate might be. In my experience you are never more than 15 feet from someone who speaks English, and never more than 5 feet from someone who is friendly, considerate, and willing to answer a question or share a pleasantry.

salon de juegos Madrid

This “salon de juegos” is typical for almost every neighborhood in Madrid. It’s a “Game Room”. The new domain JUEGOS.CLUB recently sold for $6000. (Photo copyright 2014 John Andrews, LLC All Rights Reserved).

For business, I meet more independent-thinking, open-minded entrepreneurs there than at big US conferences like NamesCon… they seem less mainstream, less likely to be working scams, and more thoughtful, and are more deeply involved in their domains and publishing on the web. I also meet vendors close up and personal… there are fewer “invite only” private dinners, for example, and in general a more open community than at US-based events.

Update: After NamesCon, I am even more thrilled to be headed to Europe. The energy behind some of the gTLDs is catching on, and I am very curious what my European friends think of the potential of cross-border names like .club and .buzz in their countries. FYI, jeugos.club just sold for $6000, suggesting that the Spanish langiage market likes .club (juegos is “games” in Spanish).

If you are interested, let me know via social media (Twitter @johnandrews DM me) or email USA @ DomainingEurope dot com… I have deep discount codes available.

If you are a domain industry player and want some insider comments about how good this would be for your brand or gTLD or whatever to engage with, I’m happy to share insights. There is no better venue to continue the meomentum of the new gTLDs in front of an audience of domain investors and developers, than DomainingEurope.

More about Visiting Spain

Take the metro... it's convenient, reliable, and gets you mixing in with the locals. Valencia is flat and the metro runs close enough to everywhere you want to visit.

Take the metro… it’s convenient, reliable, and gets you mixing in with the locals. During siesta, it’s almost empty. Valencia is flat and the metro runs close enough to everywhere you want to visit.

I enjoy traveling and especially traveling into Spain, for many reasons. While of course it’s great to visit trendy and amazing places, I like to trek through “real” places, where I can participate in the community as other than a tourist. Spain is very easy for solo travel, and interesting.

I tend to “skip out” very often during conference travel. It’s a way for me to scout out neighborhoods and pathways before I have any vested interest in actually getting anywhere at a particular time. In Valencia, the metro is very convenient but it is also a very walkable city.

Secotel Hoteles Sorolla Palace

The Sercotel Hoteles Serolla Palace is a fine hotel and the conference hotel. It is a modern steel and glass vertical hotel in the business district of Valencia. Stay there, to enjoy the guest hospitality and comforts of a conference hotel. The food is excellent, and the spread put out is tremendous. The hotel clearly caters to upscale international travelers and business people.

A few of my European domainer friends chose to stay in apartments and VRBO-like flats nearby in the neighborhoods. They were not high-quality. They were fine, according to them, but very very cheap and you do get what you pay for when choosing cheap, local accommodations off the tourism map. I did not get to visit any but will try harder this year… it’s part of my kind of travel: get to see what others are doing, without having to do it myself ;-)

The food put out by the hotel was always very impressive. There is simply no way you would not be happy with any of the meal buffets they offer. The coffee machines are real… not this Keurig crap we see in the states, but 4 or 5 real automated espresso machines set out with real milk options and the like. Of all of the things I’ve enjoyed about Europe over the years, the coffee has been a highlight.

The Sercotel Sorolla Palace buffet is a highlight. never disappoints.

The Sercotel Sorolla Palace buffet is a highlight. never disappoints.

Europeans consider sweets served after meals to be "digestive aids"... they got that right.

Europeans consider sweets served after meals to be “digestive aids”… they got that right.

View from my Conference Hotel in Valencia, looking towards the water on a clear day. Hoteles Sercotel Sorolla Palace. It was like 75 euro per night as I recall.

View from my Conference Hotel in Valencia, looking towards the water on a clear day. Hoteles Sercotel Sorolla Palace. It was like 75 euro per night as I recall.

Tapas is the rule in Spain, and for good reason. You can eat a little bit of good food, cheaply, which enables everyone to go out every night, without a big expense. But for the toursist, often tapas is not the best choice. For example, if you know you like spiced up grilled chicken, you can order it as a meal. And when you do… if you are outside of the tourist tracks, you can get …

Get off the tourist track, and enjoy "real" food in Spain. This was served to me as ONE serving of grilled chcken...you can see I had already eaten the bread with my wine.... a mistake.

Get off the tourist track, and enjoy “real” food in Spain. This was served to me as ONE serving of grilled chicken…you can see I had already eaten the bread with my wine…. a mistake. The total bill was under $15.

 

The guys who served me ran the bar and back kicthen, and were very interested in how I liked their food… they had no interest in gaining social media reviews or getting a tip.. they just saw a new customer they wanted to make happy.

ValenBi Si bike rentals are everywhere, helmets not required, and Valencia is flat so it actually works.  I used it several times last year.

ValenBi Si bike rentals are everywhere, helmets are not required, and Valencia is flat — so bike rental actually works. I used it several times last year, especially when I overstayed my visit and had to be back to the conference in a hurry.

The European Domaining Conference food was great.. the Hotel is top tier and does a great job serving Spanish-prepared classic foods everyone will like. But with a 2-3 hour mid-day break, and virtually the entire population out for socializing between 930 and 11 pm every single night, you almost always wander out at night and eat again. To be honest, I love the lifestyle.

This American was not accustomed to the amount of street art in Spain.. it's a cultural expresssion less connected to street crime than it is in the US. Also, the narrow streets from hundreds of years ago are very cool.

This American was not accustomed to the amount of street art in Spain.. I’m told it’s a cultural expresssion less connected to street crime than it is in the US. Also, the narrow streets from hundreds of years ago are very cool. The posts protect pedestrians.

If you want to understand Spain, don’t ask a Spaniard. They literally don’t know how unique their culture is, or at least don’t know how to communicate that to a foreigner. That’s why I walk… I see things for myself.

And almost every time I walked, I ran into something new and interesting.Ask a resident about festivals and they’ll tell you about the big annual one you just missed. But then… not a day goes by that you don’t encounter a celebration of some sort on the streets.

There are so many different cultures within the nation known as Spain, and every one of them wants to express their culture in public. It’s part of the process of keeping it alive and maintaining respect for your cultural within the conglomerate that is Espana. So when you see a c rowd or hear some music or instruments or clapping or stomping, go check it out. It’s a celebration.

I watched dancers from Sevilla showing off their stuff, a procession of Catholics honoring the Holy Mother, among many, many other parades, festivals, processions, and celebrations over just a few days in Spain.

I watched dancers from Sevilla showing off their stuff, a procession of Catholics honoring the Holy Mother, among many, many other parades, festivals, processions, and celebrations over just a few days in Spain.

And of course getting off the beaten path means mixing with the locals. While the conference attendees visit the amazing free breakfast buffet at the hotel, which was excellent, you have to venture out at least once before 8am and break fast with the locals.

A "mixto"... a ham and cheese breakfast sandwich, served at a noisy counter, is typical worker fare in the mornings, along with a beer. I had cafe... which is also excellent everywhere in Spain.

A “mixto”… a ham and cheese breakfast sandwich, served at a noisy counter, is typical worker fare in the mornings, along with a beer. I had cafe… which is also excellent everywhere in Spain. Put me back about $4 total.

Do I need to even mention the architecture? While the travel agents will show off Valencia’s amazing modern architecture (see below), I just walk around and touch the old stuff… we don’t have this in America.

Valencia is famous for it's modern Arts & Sciences district, with amazing architecture. But I liked the almost thousand year old stuff more...and it was everywhere.

Valencia is famous for it’s modern Arts & Sciences district, with amazing architecture. But I liked the almost thousand year old stuff more…and it was everywhere.

Pretty unbelievable that old relics sell at auction for millions, while carvings like this are in the public throughout Europe. Take a walk... you'll enjoy the view.

Pretty unbelievable that old relics sell at auction for millions, while carvings like this are in the public throughout Europe. Take a walk… you’ll enjoy the view.

So this is a bit about traveling to Spain for the European Domaining conference in Valencia. It’s not a brochure post… I am not a saleman nor a travel agent. It’s a post about some of the details I wanted to share… as an American with not-enough opportunity to visit Europe, I find this and other smaller, tightly-focused conferences to be priceless. While the Euro is low compared to the dollar, and everyone is speaking English, it’s a great opportunity and I recommend it.

If you plan to attend, drop me a note. I always plan before and after travel, and my primary focus of all of these trips is meeting the individuals actually doing the innovating behind the scenes on the Internet: the seos and entrepreneurs behind the domains. We have a lot in common and the opportunities for collaboration are endless right now.

 

 

SEO Security, Threat Intelligence, and Competition

I was reading about a security course over at Black Hat when it dawned on me… this is just like SEO.

The US Special Operations Forces pioneered a methodology called F3EAD, which enabled amongst other things the ability to take out insurgent and terrorist networks.

Acronyms aside… F3EAD sure sounds cool. And “taking out” insurgents and terrorists is honorable work. But the details of the HOW are just like competing in Internet and Search Marketing. Look how it continues:

This methodology focuses on ‘Finding’ the adversary, ‘Fixing’ their location, ‘Finishing’ their operational utility, and collecting the materials associated with the target.

Just like buying sites in your market vertical. Find the ones worth buying, and investigate the real reasons they rank (to manage risk of purchase and utility). The military will then “finish” them (while we will simply buy them out). The military will then take all their stuff… just like we assume control of the web sites and ancillary support we bought (social media, mailing lists, and the like).

The military doesn’t burn the competitors’ stuff… they do better, just like we do:

This material is then ‘Exploited’ or used to extract operational details of the network they are associated with, ‘Analyzed’ for intelligence which is useful to find other targets, and ‘Disseminated’ for other friendly forces to conduct operations.

Yup. We get access to insider analytics and learn  better how to take over the marketplace. We use our awareness to “find other targets” whether keywords or  sub-niches, or additional competitors we should buy out.

The “disseminating to other friendly forces” is just perfectly similar to the way we start linking to our other owned media, friends, and supporters. To the victor go the spoils… put it all to work!

Here’s the claim, and the pitch for the training course:

Intelligence enables cyber defense teams to look at the cyber battlefield from the 50,000-foot view and piece together all aspects of the cyber adversary’s operations. From what altitude are you viewing the cyber battlefield?

Just like Strategic SEO… the value of the Big Picture when optimizing for Google traffic: not only for volume but for quality, in support of conversion rates and ROI goals.

The rest is also spot on… I think any great strategic SEO should be able to attend this course, keep an SEO perspective throughout the class, and walk away much better equipped to compete in today’s SEO landscape:

In this class, you will learn the importance of Threat Intelligence, how to consume intelligence, and how to integrate it into your enterprise. This integration will focus on real time integration to allow threat intelligence to be processed at ‘line speed’. Students will learn how to leverage intelligence for defense as well as investigative purposes. A key focus will be on identifying intelligence sources and exploiting them to extract intelligence. We will then explore how to enrich this intelligence and feed it into enterprise security solutions to enhance defensive postures. There will be some technical hands-on activities exploring data visualization, forensic analysis, malware analysis, and dynamic memory analysis.

Not only strategically empowering, but it’s a tech course, so automation is key:

Students will leave with a competence in identifying intelligence sources and incorporating them into automated solutions. This will include extensive hands-on work using numerous tools across several different disciplines. While not exhaustive or specifically deep in any one area, students will leave with an arsenal of tools and techniques to apply intelligence to enterprise defense.

I think this highlights one of the major weaknesses of the modern SEO industry marketplace. Our leaders aren’t strong enough in our own field. Our speakers, teachers, and journalists are light in actual effective SEO skills and knowledge, so the SEO publishing doesn’t deliver nearly what this security course promises. But it could, no?

Perhaps a criteria for publishing on SEO or speaking from an SEO podium should be actual combat experience. We just have to figure out how to verify the battle winners from the battle losers, since it’s clear that failed SEOs don’t get killed off.

On Practitioners, Policymakers, Business, and Authority

Deleted, because I’m exhausted. It just won’t make any difference… you have lost, and the big players have won.

 

Update: therefore, it’s time to address the future of online marketing & SEO.

 

 

It’s OK to be Late

It must be a slow news month, because I’ve been seeing a disproportionate number of people whining in public about other people being late to their meetings & appointments. Mostly these are people I do not respect: social media gurus, self-help experts, “authors” of pop business books, professional speakers, venture capitalists, placed startup CEOs and the like.

But it did get me to thinking why I think it’s ok to be late, and why I’m often late. And when I started to reflect on that, almost everyone I work with on successful projects is almost always late or having to adjust schedules at the last minute. Often the first 5 minutes of a conference call is like a Chinese fire drill. We’re not organized, efficient, and yes, we are wasting each other’s valuable time. But it’s ok.

It’s OK because we know in our hearts that each of us has been really seriously busy working furiously hard to be excellent at our part of what this team produces. In many ways, that brief down time of pre-meeting turmoil is actually FUN. Sometimes it’s the only time we get to laugh and joke around as friends, because we’re not hustling.

Work, Much?

Could it be that these people who viscerally hate those who keep them waiting, are the same people who don’t actually do much useful work? Could this be a pattern I’m seeing… that maybe these self-important people are not getting the respect they think they deserve (from those who are late), because…maybe…well, they actually don’t deserve that respect?

A quick closer look… hmmm… an interview candidate was late. Yup… if I was interviewing and really respected the potential boss, would I be late? Nope. Not a chance. But if I didn’t really want the gig, but maybe needed “a” gig, I’d book the meeting and try to make it. But if *anything* better got in the way, I bet I’d be late or have to cancel.

Here’s another one… it was a meeting of subordinate managers. Boss man was bitching because someone was late and disorganized.

Might that have been because said subordinate prioritized some of the excess work she has to do over being on-time for that meeting? Maybe because self-absorbed boss-man isn’t actually doing any work himself? Or, maybe it’s because she alone knows that if she didn’t let this or that slide, things would fall apart?

 

This situation is almost always a result of poor top-down management IMHO, and said top level managers are never aware of it.

I Won’t Judge… I’ll just Observe

I don’t know… I wasn’t there. But I do know that this public whining is an example of the annoying idleness these self-absorbed, self-professed important people have in their professional lives. That they have time to blog about it…. check that… that they think it’s ok to blog about it, is a sign of the absurdity of the situation.

I also know that if I or any of my colleagues win an extra 5 to 10 minutes because someone is late, we will get a shit ton of work done during that “free time”. And usually, it is work that helps the eventual meeting (finishing an unpolished mockup, documenting an awesome idea to make it actionable, dispatching considered opinions to enable others to turn queued work into actionable tasks, etc).

How often do your meetings “wait” for someone late to show up? I don’t even understand that concept.

But I suspect these annoyed prima donna leaders are perhaps the OTHER kind of executives. The ones who can’t make anything happen without an assistant (or two). Not as bad as the ones who still need their emails printed out for them, but bad enough that an idle 10 minutes leaves them wasting (their own) time, feeling annoyed.

I can’t remember the last time I didn’t appreciate an extra 10 minutes of breathing room in my schedule. I also can’t remember the last time I scheduled things so tight that if someone was late, my day fell apart. That would be, to put it simply, irresponsible of me as a leader.

It’s OK to be Late

I decided to make a list of some reasons why successful team members are allowed to be late for meetings with me and my partners. I hope you enjoy it.

Acceptable Reasons for Being As Late As You Need to Be when working with Me

1. You didn’t get enough sleep last night, or this month, and it got the best of you for a bit.

I totally understand. Neither did I, while I was hot on the trail of success and innovation. We haven’t cracked that issue yet – what makes people creative, and keeps people innovating while executing.

Need some help cause it’s been a tough few days of little or no sleep, or frenetic sleep? I have some tricks I’ll share with you, as do most of my successful peers. Oh, and let me drive to (next place) so you can catch some Zzz’s in the back seat. We can get this done, and get you some down time along the way.

The whole team appreciate you, and we will need you at your best later, so we’re happy to help out now.

Of course I know you’re not tired because that night job of yours went into overtime. You earn a good share of the pie with us, and have options for making more WITH US if you need more work, so you don’t need a second, less-respectful job.

Quality people are worth saving from life’s hiccups, when bad stuff is interrupting their normal human lives.

Respect goes a long way, and is a two-way street. If you really can’t carry your half of the equation, I’m sorry but you going to need to find other work. We’re not going to leave you in the middle, disappointing us and yourself. Only shitty managers and greedy owners do that to their staff.

2. You got distracted by (other important work issue no one was handling) which is now resolved.

Good for you, for getting it sorted. And good for us that you stepped up and took an active roll, preventing the bigger problems that were likely to hurt all of us if you hadn’t seen the problem and reacted quickly.

This is true is because I know you would not have done that for a trivial matter. You are a quality team member, with excellent judgment, and we both rely on you for that wisdom in your role. It’s part of why we are all successful, after all.

Did I just hint that maybe hiring lower quality people leads to poor decision-making that can lead to avoidable lateness at important meetings? Yeah, I did.

3. You underestimated the effort it would take to get to the meeting place (physical meetings)

This includes traffic, the car broke down, the train was late, the dog threw up, etc etc. In this case, my bad for forcing a physical meeting or not finding ways to eliminate the need for it. Also my bad for relying on you to physically be there (on time), because that shit is simply absurd.

Was it for a signature? Could that be done asynchronously?

In-person stuff is real in banking, some deal-making, and for some sensitive introductions. I know that. Some of the best work I’ve ever done as a consultant has been live, in-person. There is nothing like talent, and people pay for talent. To deliver big in real time, in front of an audience of clients or regulators or bankers or … well.. you get the idea. It’s the magic that supports the Big Wins.

But in almost all cases, the need for physical presence can be addressed in flexible ways that work out wonderfully even if a key player is late. If not, IMHO, it was all poorly planned.

After all, isn’t that part of risk management for said big deal or key introduction or whatever?

Here is where I stick in the suggestion… and it’s only a suggestion, mind you, that a prospective employee who doesn’t  survive a late-to-the-interview error was not, actually, a strong prospect. Shame on you for letting yourself get annoyed when a not-very-promising candidate failed to show up on time.

4. You forgot it was (now)

Really? You simply forgot about the meeting?

Again, because only top quality people are on my team, this is my bad. I must not have touched base with you this morning about today’s meeting. I must have overlooked you when I checked in with my key players an hour or so before scheduled time. Because I do that with every one of the people who were absolutely needed at this meeting. That’s how I help them kill it. That’s why we win.

I will try not to let that happen again, and ask for help with the task when I’m super busy. I apologize.

Can you image a boss who schedules an important meeting with his key people, but doesn’t txt an hour or so before to see if they needed anything before the meeting? I can’t either. That’d be pretty lame.

Or maybe it’s a manager who calls a meeting that doesn’t actually need to happen, for some time in the future, and waits for everyone to drop everything else they are doing and show up (on time).

Let’s face it. The only people who will absolutely definitely be able to make that kind of a meeting, are the people who make such meetings part of their work. They need meetings! Meetings are what-they-do! Those people won’t be late, but they are very likely to lambaste anyone who is late.

Who’s Whining? Who’s Winning?

That’s a few.. and I’m tired of writing this.

I suspect most of the whining about this sort of “late” comes from people who employ “workers” they call “labor” and hold accountable to Human Resource policies.

Those days are over. You can’t win today with people who are happy to work for faceless corporations, answer to unaccountable HR drones who defer all responsibility for work conditions to some unnamed higher power in the corporate executive suites.

Today you need people who are willing to work,willing to give it everything they have, and willing to work as a team towards a winning goal, not just an ego goal.

Sorry, that’s all for now. I’m late for a meeting…

So I hope this little essay helps some of you “see” what I believe it means to be a strategic winner in business life, with team members who want to be there with you, and who want to share the win with you.

Basically, I think it’s the opposite of what these whiners are describing they suffer in their professional lives.

 

Six Ways Matthew Ingram is Wrong about Andrew Keen Being Wrong about the Internet

Matthew Ingram published “Six ways in which Andrew keen is wrong about the internet [sic]” and I have to say, “what nonsense”. It’s so much fluff, wrapped in stock photography and Modern Typography, that it’s comical (to me… an admitted Silicon Valley Outsider).

So here on my ugly little blog, where an audience 0.0001% the size of Medium or GigaOhms will see it, I offer you:

“Six Ways Matthew Ingram is Wrong about Andrew Keen Being Wrong about the Internet”

1. The first section Ingram wrote was “It has created giant monopolies

I didn’t read Keen’s book, but after reading Matthew Ingram’s response, I can say that Ingram’s wrong about this one. In what is presented as an argument that the Internet has NOT enabled giant monopolies, Ingram almost immediately falls to the excuse “monopolies are nothing new”, and cites the Amazon/Google/Facebook examples. He says “while it’s true that network effects can help entrench these monopolies, they can also disrupt them”. As if that was relevant?

He concludes his paragraph about how wrong Keen is with a completely factless assertion “The Internet destroys as many as it creates“. Really? Where DID that DATA come from?

2. Under the claim “it’s free, but we are the product” Ingram again defers to the “it’s not as bad as” type of excuse. After noting Keen’s claims that the Internet is abusing us to make money off of us, Ingram simply states “is this really that much worse than the world of mainstream entertainment, whether it’s cable television or Hollywood movies? … Is what Facebook is doing really that bad by comparison?

I never expected someone writing about how someone else is “wrong” to simply acknolwedge the valididty of the claims, followed by “but it’s ok”. But that’s what Ingram is doing. This essay is nonsense.

3. Under “the jobs it creates are not real jobs” Ingram again acknowledges that the Internet “has helped to destroy thousands of secure and well-paying factory or middle class jobs”. He then wonders out loud why Keen didn’t list this as a “positive thing“. Really?

Again… you guessed it… Silicon Valley apologist Ingram adds a not-so-bad comment: “But isn’t this better than nothing?” I kid you not. If Keen was “wrong”, then so must be Ingram because they are in agreement on the fact.

4. Under “it hasn’t created enough value“, Ingram addresses Keen’s claim that the new jobs we have in the digital economy, like posting our content in exchange for a small share of Google’s ad revenues (or no share of Buzzfeed’s), are worse than the old jobs of assembling motor cars. I kind of thought this would be impossible to counter, even for a Silicon Valley fan boy.

But alas, if you simply reply to points with reasons why they are “not so bad”, you can counter anything. As Ingram does.

Ingram simply says that our new work is actually more like entertainment, and that we enjoy it, before he admits the economic value is indeed much less. That’s right…. less. In agreement with the very claim he says Keen got wrong. Again.

5. On the topic of “it promotes a narcissistic culture” Ingram addresses Keen’s “Cult of the Amature” propositions. Again, I did not read Keen’s work, but based on the title alone I like it. Our physical world is now filled with selfie-sticks. How can this assertion be “wrong”?

Ingram offers no argument to support a claim that Keen is “wrong”. Given the chance to argue in his own essay, Ingram simply references a status-quo argument : that the Internet simply amplified what was going on already, and also enabled expression of creativity (he threw that in to distract us, I suppose). He then asserts that this has an “incalculable” social value. Wow.

Basically we have one guy (Keen) saying these narcissistic posers are ruining the world, while Ingram thinks they are wonderful. Somewhere in there, Ingram feels ok claiming one of those opinions is “wrong”. I’m guessing you can tell the Silicon Valley fan boy from the other guy at this point, even without my help.

6. Finally, in “it’s a lawless free-for-all“, Ingram repeats his unique brand of debate one last time. Keen says piracy is bad. Ingram suggests not that it isn’t bad, but rather that these unregulated companies exploiting things like piracy will eventually get regulated, too.

Yup. He agreed the pirates bend the rules, and make money doing it, until they get caught or constrained by regulations. Sounds an awful lot like… well…. pirates?

How Ingram can frame that as disagreeng with a claim that “it’s a free-for-all” is beyond me. His argument is more like “okay, so it is a free-for-all, but not for long because it’s wrong and will have to be regulated eventually“.

This, folks, is why I don’t bother reading GigaOhm or Medium…. the vehicles used for Silicon Valley propaganda that isn’t even good enough for entertainment. It’s a stall tactic… and a disrespectful one at that. In the eyes of these pirates, you are all a bunch of idiots and will eat up this drivel while, in the mean time, they take all the cash before the regulators take action.

Life is simple. Follow the money.

Developing Developing Developing Developing…

My friend Peter Askew recently remarked about the power of “developing domains” to build audiences and achieve success:

domain-development-infographic

He was following up on a preior tweet where he showed traffic growth of an older dormant domain he has “revived”. The chart shows significant traffic success:

domain development for seo

This is what domainers call “development” and what SEO practitioners call “a website”. Development is a process… a technical process of building a web asset (in this case, on a domain). As the famous former Microsoft CEO Ballmer once chanted….

Well, close anyway. While Ballmer was courting software developers, Internet business people are courting audiences. Domain development is how audiences are earned. Domains are Internet assets which can be used to store a portion of the earned attention, at least for as long as search engines permit.

The Root SEO Problem, Often Overlooked

The reason Peter (and many domainers) referred to “development” is because before Google became a search monopoly, there were actually people who build web assets on domains without content. Compared to the performance of such minimally-developed domains, a developed domain thrives.

Domain parking was one pathway to content-free publishing, and SEO was another. Parking is largely gone now, and SEO remains as a form of competitive webmastering aka publishing.

The root problem, is the SEO marketplace. As SEO became valuable, various practitioners commoditized it and broke SEO into discrete pieces, to be executed a-la-carte as budgets allowed and profit margins recommended. In most cases, the most profitable parts of a web site search optimization (or “SEO”) were split off and sold as stand-alone services.

While website building (or “domain development”) was the true path to success, those other fast-money options were more attractive. Today, however, there are only a few known ways to draw an audience to a URL, and fewer to store that attention in the domain. A primary channel is search. But since search engines like Google became Internet monsters managing large portfolios of interconnected web properties, so did “search” become a massive traffic channel that spans beyond users searching on a search website like Google.com or Bing.com.

Me, Too Marketers Use Many Names

Oddly, even though there has been shake out and many SEO firms had to exit the audience-building business, some marketers still try to segment the marketplace for audience-building services, using new monikers like “Content Marketing” and “Inbound Marketing” and “Social Media“.

Isn’t this really just a case of marketing services?

When they tried to market just-one-part as “SEO”, they ramped up and crashed. The smart ones ramped up and cross-sold general services into the client base, but most “so-called-SEO firms” died.

The people behind them tried to do the same thing again, only selling something different. With “link building” and “guest posting” and “Content marketing” etc., but they, too, failed or are falling.

The reasons are obvious to insiders. SEO (or “competitive web site development”) requires a lot more than a tactic or two. Plus, one or two tactics executed out of proportion with the rest of publishing calls unwanted attention from the web spam police at Google.

The profits weren’t flowing much beyond an initial engagement for these folks, as tactics and methods failed to deliver promised performance.

Dear Domainers: It’s Called “Owned Media” Now

As marketers attempted to segment and label various facets of successful audience building around a reliable domain asset, they gave interesting names to the parts they understood. Earned Media, Social Media, Blogs, and now Owned Media.

What the marketing world is waking up to, and Peter is again demonstrating, is that Owned Media works. In other words, web sites work.

Developing Successful Web Sites is Hard Work

It should come as no surprise that developing good websites is hard work. It costs money, and labor. I might even be so brash as to suggest that the costs associated with web site development are proportional to the successes gained with audience-building, on average.

What else would you expect? As smart companies like Google build monopolies around Internet audiences and traffic, they assumed control of a significant portion of the profit associated with those audiences. Capitalism would have it no other way! Market efficiency, and all that. If you are ater Google’s traffic, in order to monetize it, then, I hate to have to remind you but…. Google is your biggest competitor.

Why should I Blog?

SEO Industry Growth, Widespread Failure, and SEO Industry Challenge

Google is doing a good job managing SEO. It has positioned itself such that it has so much cash and so much control, that it can manipulate the search experience to counter SEO efforts, even while hurting users and in many cases wrecking the search quality,  without much risk to it’s own success.

And now we search industry professionals find ourselves dealing with a new problem: ourselves. We’ve gotten to the point where crappy, irresponsible SEO is hurting everyone. I didn’t say bothering everyone. I said hurting everyone. Hurting other SEOs, hurting marketing partners, and hurting client businesses and other players in the Internet ecosystem.

The solution is not more sloppy, deceptive, or ignorant SEO industry organizing. The solution is not pretending not to be an SEO by re-branding as Content Marketing or UnBound or whatever. And the solution is not limiting your service provision to SEO “audits” as if you were immune from the problems.

The Solution I See

The solution I think will work has two parts: 1. Let the failed & fake SEOs go away and become realtors or whatever else they want to pursue next, and 2. Stop tolerating the crap some of the remaining SEO firms put into the public eye (especially the scammers).

Is it Time to Quit SEO?

The first part is easy. Even the laziest SEOs can simply not do anything and let the losers walk. They came for the easy money and fast credibility. Now they will leave, and do the same somewhere else.

Can the Survivors Make It?

The second part might be too hard, though, because it requires some courage and some work, two resources I believe the SEO industry media and leadership lacks. And also because there are still a lot of crappy SEOs who are in denial about their ability to deliver SEO results for their projects. They are likely to hold on, band together, and pretend they are still awesome, that their SEO still works, and that the world is a happy place filled with rainbows and ponies that never age.

What is “Grey”?

It’s also not “easy” to agree on what is a scam. There seems to be a real failure on the part of many search marketing practitioners, when it comes to recognizing the color grey. Grey is not a shade of black. But it is also not a shade of white. And there is not one “grey”. In a monochrome world, such as we have with ONE SEARCH ENGINE, there is a continuum of shading from pure white to deep black. It is a FACT that the line of allowable tactics actually moves, both with topic and time.

Grey is Everything

The grey issue is super important. Perhaps a third component of a clean-up of the SEO industry should be a sort of color-blindness test, to measure whether or not we can recognize “grey” and demonstrate suitable skills to manage the shifting shade bar that is the continuum of SEO between white and black. Many of today’s self-proclaimed SEOs would fail that test, in my opinion.

I can just imagine certain players jumping in to suggest that an “ethics program” is the solution for that…. LAUGH OUT LOUD. We don’t need a badge program hidden under an “ethics” label.

If You’re Winning, You Have What It Takes

The solid truth is much simpler than that: if you are successful as an SEO, you’ve proven your ability to judge the gray, and adapt as the borders of greyishness shift with Google’s whim. If you cannot succeed in today’s SEO climate, you should move on, or “go back to school” which in this field might mean return to testing and studying.

Alas, though… so many have poor business skills as well, and so no cash in the bank to fund such re-investment. It was a good ride up till now, but if you didn’t save a war chest, it’s just basic business logic that you need to go home now, because you’re not equipped to keep playing your old cards.

But the Winners Aren’t Safe: Survivors have Bigger Problems Now

Right now, we have new big problems that will challenge even the prepared SEOs who would otherwise be able to continue successfully and prosper. We are now at a point where enough people who are NOT search marketers know enough about SEO to make big mistakes that impact the online businesses that are trying to achieve search marketing success.

Combine that with the continued presence of ineffective SEOs refusing to walk away, the seemingly deliberate abandonment of those businesses by Google, and a few well-equipped scammers boldly taking advantage with no push-back from the SEO industry players, and we have a recipe for disaster.

SEO Opportunity being Drowned in Nonsense

If real businesses encounter real difficulty achieving search marketing success, that fact is supposed to spell opportunity for professional search optimizers. When players make big bets and stall or suffer failures, it should generate great business for real consultants who know how to right the ship, and for real independent SEOs competitively working those same SERPs. But it’s not.

It’s Clean Up Time – It’s a Matter of Survival

It’s time to call a spade a spade. If your SEO practice is all about pushing tactics today until they get penalized, and then pushing the counter-tactics tomorrow to clean up after your own mess, it’s time to go home.

If you SEO consulting business is limited to audits that give you a one-way opportunity to criticize others’ work, while attempting to use the opened door to sell web development or packaged monochromatic tactical services, it’s time to get out of the way. You’re just hurting people, and abusing trust.

If your SEO business survives by collecting a front load fee (“setup” or “research” or “market analysis” etc) that you hope will carry you through to some future time when your SEO actually works, it’s quitting time. Give yourself a break from the stress… Google isn’t going to get dumber. SEO isn’t going to get easier. You don’t have a viable business.

And if you’re an association or agency or trade group and the only prospects you see for growth and survival are old school badge programs or extortion, or if you are planning to survive by selling re-packaged SEO tools, please…. give it up. It’s a dead horse.

But if you are a real SEO, get back to work. Study the SERPs, test your hunches. Over build, work harder, and just try to win. If necessary, pick a less-competitive sub vertical to re-start, just like you did last time. Hard work is the only way to recover as an effective SEO.

SEO Still Works and It Always Will

There is no reason why SEO won’t work today, just as it worked yesterday. Except for a very few keyword spaces, there is plenty of organic SERP to develop business. If your domain isn’t in the SERP, getting it there will give you more reach. If your marketing message isn’t convincing, rewrite it to be effective, or re-analyze your customer’s market to better understand their perspective. If you are losing to your competitor, figure out why. If Google is giving you trouble, solve the problems.

And if you honestly see that you don’t know what to do, don’t know why the things you do aren’t working, and don’t have a plan to change that, it’s time to get another job.

Quit Whining. You’re Polluting the Cesspool

Stop complaining, and stop being an easily-recognizable target for the increasing numbers of ill-informed business people who are making bad moves because they think they understand SEO. Left on their own, without you to blame, they will seek “real help” and that supports effective SEO and the real SEO industry.

When you publish ignorant blog posts, irresponsible claims about SEO, and rants calling for clarity from Google on SEO tactical issues,  you are just splashing around muddying the waters without any chance of taking home fish. You’re becoming a simple nuisance, ruining the fishing for everyone, for no valid purpose.

And if You were really only in SEO for the Celebrity…

If you were only in SEO because it was rewarding to be an instant entertainer, micro-celebrity, and self-proclaimed “successful Internet entrepreneur”, it should be easy to make an excuse and take a quiet exit at the top of your game.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do you want to WIN, or just “Be the Winner”?

One of the best aspects of travel (aside from, well, traveling) is that I get to meet real people in pursuit of real goals. I get to discuss SEO and Internet business, plus careers, with people from all over the globe (as long as they speak English, sigh). This includes sharing unique experiences that really cannot be observed any other way than in-person, or via storytelling. Travel is all about story telling, and listening.

With “competitive seo” there is little room for debate. It’s about winning. It’s about being in front of potential customers when they search Google, with a higher prominence than everyone else (including all of the other SEOs trying to win that audience).

You can define what it means to be “Number 1” for any given niche or keyword set or market, as appropriate, but the honest definition must match performance. The #1 spot is defined as the spot that has been observed to convert the best. The Money Spot. The best spot to win becomes the #1 spot, every time. In SEO, the owner of #2 is not a contender, but the first loser.

There is a lot of nuance in the above-mentioned concepts of “customer”, “niche or keyword set”, and “conversion”. In my experience, very few professionals have a strong grasp of overall SEO. Most are tactical practitioners focused on some subset of the above.

So it is always interesting to meet and discuss SEO with those who claim it as their profession, job, vocation, past-time or calling. I find it very easy, with a brief discussion, to ascertain the technical skill levels, experience with general or keyword-specific SEO, vision, perspective, and even the “religion” of an SEO. Which is why it’s a great idea to travel (to meet them).

One of the first things I have to ascertain about any SEO is… does he want to win, or just want to be The Winner?

Is it possible that the best SEO could be known to be a great SEO? This is a tough question that many in our industry do not understand to be difficult. In fact, many think it is an obvious, silly question. According to many I meet, the best SEOs are up on the stage, demonstrating their abilities. They are well known, admired by their peers, and both well-paid and highly-regarded.

Now we can debate at length why this is not true, how things could possible work out if it were true, etc., but it is very likely such a discussion will first be side-tracked by a second question – who cares? Clearly the famous Top SEO knows hir stuff… isn’t that all that matters? Or better yet, who cares? If I feel it is a certainty that every time So-and-So takes the stage, I learn great stuff… does it really matter if someone is a “real SEO” or just a knowledgeable and entertaining very good one?

Yes, it does. Because…money.

Only while this thing we call SEO is new and requires great learning skills and determination, will demand will be strong and salaries respectable. As the US market is learning now, if SEO gets de-mystified, or Google takes most of the “best spots”, only the winners will survive. And that forces people like me, the ones who hire “real SEOs” and put “real SEO” to work every day, to redefine “winners” very carefully.

If you are serious about SEO, are you trying to win, or just trying to be a “winner”?

If you are trying to win, good on you, mate. Best of luck, and hey, I’d like to meet you some time, when it’s convenient. I’ll buy the beer! But if you are trying to be The Winner, I’m afraid we’re in different professions. The #1 spots don’t really matter much to you, except perhaps the #1 spot for “Top SEO”, which has no value in my game.

So where does “money” come in? Throughout history, money is the means of getting things done. Money is not a posession, but a tool. For the SEO trying to win, money is a resource. For the SEO trying to be The Winner, money is a reward. There is a very big difference.

Real SEOs need the money now, to put to work on SEO. Those sacrificing everything to be “winners” will often defer what they see as rewards, for later. The budget is spent on travel, clothes, appearances, and perhaps picking up the check when dining with those who can help them move up the ladder.

But most of what we get to observe is not at that level. We don’t get to witness many true winners at SEO.

Regarding those who win at “Being The Winner”, we may see them on stage, but we don’t have access to them. They refuse speaking engagements unless they are the keynote speaker, with large audience. They require luxury suites with building and floor-level security. These “rock stars” are celebrities, but they believe they are Winners.

Try getting attention from them at a networking event. They famously refuse to “meet-up” insisting instead on only “meeting UP” i.e. accepting invitations that are “upstream” from their status.

Regarding those who actually win the #1 spots, we don’t have access to them, either. Anyone who has ever battled and won a top money spot will admit that staying there requires commitment and confidentiality, as well as diligence. SEO is constantly changing. What worked last year, is different now. No one wants you to take the stage and discuss what worked last year.  Getting up on stage and talking about what is working now won’t be good for performance.

Less obviously, it can be very difficult to discuss practical SEO matters with a peer, without revealing potentially dangerous vulnerabilities. SEOs are opportunists with skills.

It’s relatively easy to access the winners who are retired from the game. They are busy living life… just go out there and do something and you’ll find them right next to you, working hard at enjoying life and not being at work. Great resources on matters of entrepreneuring, fund raising, family and life matters, and truly wonderful footwear, but not current SEO.

If you sense this issue in your SEO life, you have my sympathies. If you disregard this as an irrelevant harangue, good luck in your quest for RockStar Status.

In between, is life as an SEO. And we must live life, for all else is naught.

If I can influence you in any way, I urge you to recognize that there are these two disparate forms of Winning in SEO. I encourage you to acknowledging (to yourself) which path you are on with your true intent, so as to help you existentially. You may live a fuller, happier existance, with less need to seek external validation (i.e. less struggle).

I admit, it also helps me put my money to work hiring effective SEOs and enabling them on paths of mutual success. But honestly that is of secondary importance. Because the greatest part of living life is sharing it with people. All of it. The good, the bad, the joys, the pain, and most of all, the wonder. And for those stimulated by intellectual discussions, it’s truly awesome to meet winners and discuss specifics of the roads traveled.

Unfortunately, those striving to be The Winner seem to be sadly devoid of the truth that is our human experience. If they have it, they’re hiding it as a secret past. If they don’t have it, they live in fear of encountering it, or in denial that it is important for their journey.

If there is one thing we can learn from video game players, it is the importance of playing the game. Stop talking about the game. Instead, be the gamer. We can talk about it later, and it’ll be awesome.

503: GONE

There have been a few occasions when Googlers stated that a 503 server response code would be interpreted by Google as a “hold on, something’s getting fixed, don’t update the index with what you find here” situation. That made great sense. How else could a tech-savvy webmaster pause re-indexing while performing an update that would effect public-facing (and thus search engine facing) URLs and content?

But that was the old Google. Matt’s extended vacation, which is like an internship for retiring, is just one of many clues that things at the New Google are not looking good for webmasters.  Unfortunately, I haven’t seen any other Googler step up and take responsibility like Matt did. Who can be considered accountable as a voice of Google today, for technical webmasters?

Certainly not the personas I have seen thus far.

So this site www.johnon.com went dark earlier this summer, with a “down for maintenance” message. Behind the scenes, it served up a 503 response code. After a week or so I got comments from readers asking if the site was gone…. and should they remove outbound links to my content. Uh oh.

An unintended consequence of going down without an obvious message, in this age of Google as penalizing aggressor, meant my site would lose backlinks. Webmasters were afraid to leave broken links on their own sites, because that might be seen as a poor quality signal by Google’s infamous “raters”.

Well, one can’t learn without taking some risk. I updated the home page to remind people that the site would be back, and that a 503 is SUPPOSED to mean “don’t index what you find here cause we’re making changes”.

I was wrong. Google de-indexed the site completely.

Now of course the Google has elastic clauses in all of its guidelines, including this one:

“…lasting 503s can eventually be seen as a sign that the server is now permanently unavailable and can result in us removing URLs from Google’s index.”

I suppose technically I wasn’t wrong… Google didn’t index the temporary holding page contents. And it didn’t re-index the incoming URLs (which I didn’t allow anyway, since it all 503’d). But getting dropped is not what should happen to an established web site when it goes into maintenance mode. And whatever amount of time I waited, is apparently “too long” according to Google. Well, at least we now know what “too long” means.

I suppose it’s time to update the contingency plans… I suppose we’ll have to maintain static cached pages or something… like in the old days.

 

 

Cloud Storage

A poet friend recently got upset about a bill he received for Google’s cloud storage. He wasn’t aware of his wife’s increased use of his online storage account, which incurred a fee on his credit card. He complained to Google, including a small rant:

“What the hell is a “Cloud Platform”?????? Do clouds need platforms? If they do (which i doubt) why should i have to pay for it? I’m already paying for those who can’t be bothered to work for a living! Does this have anything to do with global warming?

So I thought I’d help clear it up for him.

Dear Terry — Honestly I don’t know what the fuss is about. Clouds are huge, and are everywhere. They move around the earth… so when we have a cloudy day, they are HERE. When we have a sunny day, they are SOMEWHERE ELSE.

There is no need for cloud storage until… everyone wants a sunny day at the same time. And why can’t they? Why should someone have to have a cloudy day, every time YOU want to enjoy a sunny one?

For that matter, why should the Pacific Northwest suffer under clouds all year, just so the rest of America can have sunny summers? It’s hardly fair. So that’s why Amazon invented cloud storage, right here in Seattle.

Google jumped in because it wants to organize everything, which I presume includes the stored clouds, right?

So chill out and do your part. We’re all just trying to advance as a civilization, and get some sunshine back up here in the PNW.

Identity Poetry for Marketers

Identity. It’s central to what matters (to you). And that makes it essential to the art of persuasion.

Who I am.

Who I think I am.

Who you think I am.

Who I think you think I am.

Who I know I am not.

Who I think you think you are.

Sometimes, identity it seems to be the only thing that matters.

I’m so much better off than you because I get it – I understand how it works. I can see that you don’t get it, but I also see your internal conflict. It’s obvious, although that might be because I’m more sensitive to such cues than others.

I do believe someday you will realize it and change your ways, to be all you can be. You’ll be happier then. And so will I, because it pains me to know you could be so much more, if-only. I’m know I’m lucky, but hopefully you’ll be lucky too, someday. Maybe I can help, but will you let me?

Carrion.

PR is where the Money Is

A shout out to all of you disenfranchised ex-SEO people out there: Public Relations is where the Money Is!

PR is a solid career with very little formal credentialing required. Even better, the consumers of PR services have less knowledge about PR than SEO consumers had about SEO! PR is a GOLDMINE opportunity for online marketers, I tell ya.

A few years back, barely any of the young PR people trying to make a name for themselves in that established industry recognized the amazing “blue water” opportunity that was SEO. The few who did recognize it, did what any good self-promoter would have done: they branded themselves SEOs and ran with it all over the PR and SEO marketplaces.

A few kind gestures, some glad-handing of key SEO industry egos, and WHAM… speaking opportunities appeared on panels at Pubcon, SES, SMS, etc. Not only was the PR version of the Internet Marketing story unique content for the eager newbies buying conference tickets, the earned authority (as an SEO) that came from being a “sought-after speaker” was immensely valuable…back in PR world.

Before SEOs realized the profits that were sitting in Big Brand accounts eager for attention, these PR “mavericks” were all over it. And with Big Brand logos attached to client lists, the SEO contracts followed.

Can’t actually do much “real SEO”? No problem… just farm out the audit, link-building, and (only if necessary) on-page SEO work, and push the client towards the PR side of SEO… the Social Media, the Guest Blogging, the “outreach” and the “co-citations”. Down-talk true SEO if necessary… those old techniques of referring to pimply-faced geeks and the like still work wonders in OldBigBrand world. And buy the client a drink… alcohol still works wonders. The Advertising industry is not dead yet!
As the Market for Lemons moved effective SEO out of the reach of the increasingly burned and hesitant marketplace, things like Social media seemed like answers to the imaginary problem of “no rankings”. And with Google obfuscating as much as it could as fast as it could, the lack of performance was nothing a little decent PR deceit couldn’t cover up. Selling is more than half the battle, and selling requires access. Access can be gained through SEO badges… and the SEO world hands them out like candy. Opportunity!

Well, sadly, that opportunity has dried up. If you can’t deliver customers, sales, or measurable outcomes, in addition to visible rankings (which may not even mater), you’re no longer welcome at the client teet.  But guess who is still taking the cash? Yup. THE PR PEOPLE!

Hah ha wow, those clever PR people have re-branded right back to “communications” again, as the specifics of SEO and technical work lost luster. Amazing, those guys. Or is it?

PR is where the money is. Take my advice:

* Just ONE INTRODUCTORY COURSE in Public Relations is enough. You’ll get it. You’ll see the parallels, and immediately see how you can spin your Internet Marketing experience (no mater how dim, basically) into convincing fodder for the BigBrand boardroom.

* start publishing. If there’s one thing we all learned from the Rise and Fall of SEO, it’s that there is NEVER enough authoritative-sounding content published to the Internet.When I played Lacrosse my coach told us “when you’re not working out, the other guy is getting bigger than you” and he was right. Lazy feeds the beast that is your competition. Memorize the idea of “Least Publishable Unit” and apply it in the PR world. Grab on to those industry buzzwords and redefine them closer to what YOU do, to gain the power. It’s not that hard.

* Start Glad-Handing the PR people. Aim for the 45 and older crowd.. they’re the more desperate ones. The Old Guys of that industry are STILL holding on at 60+, boldly ignoring what actually works today because they think they have the client accounts locked up. The young people have basically abandoned the old school approach. The middle-agers are not staring at a fertile next 20 years of work, and they know it. They NEED young blood to do the work (whatever that is). Pitch them… and be sure to carry a non-threatening demeanor.

* Play Dumb about PR and say “Wow I Didn’t Know That”. These middle-aged PR people who have been working both sides of the PR industry (the PR side, and the Internet side) have super big egos, but work really hard to suppress their true personalities in public (part of the PR training). You’ll do best if you treat them like Mensa Warriors. In fact, play super-dumb about anything THEY SAY is PR, and you’ll probably have the best luck. Oh, and learn to smile and shake hands as if it mattered, because in that world, it does.

* Re-brand as a PR Agency or Communications Agency. Seriously… it works! I’ve already seen several “How can we Grow our Business” mind-maps in 2013 that considered “Better SEO” and expensive, high-risk strategy, and “hire a PR pro” as low-hanging fruit. You need to become a “Pro” now. See the above for how to shift your “fake it till you make it” seo skills right into PR world with the least amount of friction.

* Start a new Conference with a Great PR Name. Some tried this years ago, but it was too early. Audience Building, Growth Blasting, or whatever, wasn’t attractive while Google’s referrer tags screamed that Google’s share of Internet was growing in an unstoppable way. But now Google knows that everyone knows Google is unstoppable, so that keyword evidence is being covered up. With less obvious information about what actually works to drive business, what will Big Brand lazy clients do? As my Grandpa used to say, given a vacuum…. MAKE A NOISE! It’s YOUR TIME now. YOU EARNED IT. All you have to do, is GO GET IT!

Effective some time very soon, we will be re-branding everything we do over here as “PR”, for the same reasons I highlight above. I know the general public (and 99% of the PR world) doesn’t read this blog, so this post doesn’t give away the farm. Besides, it’s a true Blue Water opportunity… lots of room for all of us. If I could start today, I would, but my pesky partners are still insisting on good SEO architecture for our re-branded website. I can’t ditch them until 2015 under my current contract, or BELIEVE YOU ME I WOULD. I’d be all over the PR thing like a link builder on SEO, or like a Content Marketer on SEO, or an InBound Marketer on SEO, or… well, you get the idea.

Google is an Addict

I have lost a few friends to addiction, and spent a considerable amount of time learning about addiction and the way individuals get caught up in a spiral of destructive, compulsive behavior that eventually destroys them (usually after causing considerable amounts of collateral damage). Let 2013 go down as the year Google became an addict.

An addict, as you know it (someone addicted to drugs or some other “substance”) exhibits a fairly well-defined set of behaviors. Even if we temporarily ignore the following VERY IMPORTANT aspects of addiction:

  • genetics and other non-behavioral factors may modulate propensity for addiction (disease model)
  • addiction likely has roots in other health / mental health disorders (behavioral health, co-occurring disorders)

we still are left with the fact that addicts behave a certain way, as they spiral down into the depths of addiction towards a likely eventual “rock bottom”.  That “addict behavior” includes the following:

  • re-alignment of effort from tasks of daily living to the single task of securing a supply (of drugs)
  • shifting belief system that rationalizes changed behavior that supports drug-seeking (such as stealing to get cash for drugs, scamming to get drugs, ignoring needs of others/responsibilities)
  • increasing desire to isolate oneself, limiting interactions (and trustful relations) to like-minded peers (other addicts)
  • voluntary continuance of behavior that has serious negative consequences to self, even though aware of those consequences (compulsive, destructive behavior).

Funny how I see Google exhibiting these signs of addiction in 2013, with gusto.

Under Larry Page, Google re-aligned resources away from building the quality, innovative, and delightful search engine we enjoyed at Google.com. Google the organization pulled back on the “20% innovation” concept, and aligned creative efforts with the core business of advertising targeting and identifying prospects for advertising targeting.

Google seems to have stripped autonomy away from the individual “leaders” it hired away from their innovative startups, and assigned them to the single task of “gaining more power” over the flow of traffic and commerce on Google’s properties. Google is clearly damaging its own projects, on the way to achieving these new goals.

Aside from an elite few, many top-tier technologists who “went to work for Google” are now basically pushing advertising onto the world for a living. That damage (to staff morale, to industry reputation, to the stream of talent formerly looking at Google as a great place to work) is considerable.
Google is addicted to power and money.

Google has CLEARLY started to isolate itself from others. No longer a fun, energetic member of the web economy, Google is actually hated by many companies and company leaders. Entire industries have engaged in discussions about “what to do about Google”. Retired tech industry veterans (the ones who don’t fear Google’s wrath) openly reference Google as “evil”.

Yet, in true addict fashion, Google’s behavior suggests it disagrees with the haters. In many cases, we see Google vilifying the haters, as if Google thought everyone else was out to get Google (justifying the abusive behaviors like a drug addict justifies stealing from a wealthy friend).

Google is an addict, and needs help.

Unfortunately we know that a deeply addicted individual — one who is truly under the power of the addiction and is not able to exert free will, will not seek help. No matter how much you may plead with Google to seek help, to get substance abuse counseling, and to realize how abusive and harmful its behavior is to the rest of the community,  Google will not do it. Google will only seek more, more, more of the drug it wants.

Every addict is unique, but it is very likely that it will take a near-death experience or a rock bottom crash to make Google change its ways. And there will be a ton of collateral damage.

In the mean time, hide your stuff.

When there are no Jobs

As in independent consultant and small business owner, I see how the markets and society impact productivity every day. One thing that need acknowledgement is that we are responsible for our own difficult situations. By we, I mean the tech sector companies, managers, workers, employees, investors, and consumers.

When we don’t respect education, we don’t get well-educated workers coming for jobs. When we have poorly-educated or not-very-smart employees in roles within a company (especially managers), we get inefficient and often error-prone execution of job functions, which leads to low quality products and services.

When we neglect education, we also isolate our independent personalities, “free thinkers”, highly-motivated and creative people, as they are most neglected by a lesser education system and lesser organizational function. Some say we “breed” mediocrity, but I don’t agree with that as much as I think we alienate those who do not fit into the “mediocre” group (perhaps pushing them out of view, leaving “mediocre” in sight).
At least two facets of this process lead to self-reinforcing mediocrity in our economy. As we manage companies that hire ill-prepared thinkers as employees, and manage the error-prone and lower quality production of products and services that results, we lower standards. At the same time, those free-thinkers and creatives and highly-motivated workers seek employment outside of that system.

This leads to our “Silicon Valley” experience on the one side (highly-motivated and creative thinkers seeking alternative systems of employment) with it’s exploitative labor arrangements distorting the purpose of labor away from production and towards servitude. It also feeds a lop-sided financial world driven by a winner-takes-all mentality with “go for the gold and invest” vs “hold back and try to hinder” behavior.

Like a sump, a community of lower-motivated and “entitled” workers makes up the largest remainder group. They accept work at mediocre dysfunctional organizations, and accept lower standards while seeking to make lives and find happiness.

But the consequences of this downward slide of economic civilization also include a perhaps less obvious “cheating society”, where workers who do not engage with the high climbers but who do not fit in with low-demand entitlement community of workers, do their best to “get ahead” within the system. These workers often ending up holding down multiple jobs or careers (e.g. job at the bank by day, real estate agent by night) or working as freelancers and contract workers. They “cheat” by exploiting “loopholes” in the system for personal gain. While “cheating” is a harsh word, if you look closely you might find a significant portion of their “earnings” come from exploitation of the overlaps between their endeavors, or their personal monetization of “slippage” that exists in the positions they hold.

Examples of “cheating” include personally selling excess office supplies from work on ebay (rationalized with “they were just going to throw it away”), spending company budget lines on training that is more relevant for the second job than the one that’s funding the purchase, calling in “sick” when there is an opportunity for better pay at a side job, etc. Sitting on multiple boards where there is conflict of interest or benefit derived from mutual considerations. Taking full benefits even when not needed (rationalized as “it’s mine, part of what I negotiated when I took the job”), deciding to execute a plan that is not truly needed by the company but would make your job much more fun, etc. The examples are so numerous and behavior so common we have come to accept them as “normal” or even “benedfits”, even though most of it technically is illegal or close to illegal. It often seems that the bigger the company, the more the cheating is considered “normal”. The government seems to be the biggest company of all, in that respect.

Psychologists have names for these behaviors (as do some lawyers) but for the purpose of this discussion I will simply note that when a person is underutilized and unhappy in a job, they tend to find ways to compensate and self-reward. Those “ways” are often at company expense, and this “cheating” mentality exists across the whole spectrum from worker through management and company behavior towards customers. One can even “see” how it could be extended to explain the nearly billion dollar pay of some CEOs, and the million dollar salaries of CEOs of so-called non-profit organizations. I think it stems from a lack of respect for education.

Of course “fixing our education system” is not a wholesale solution. I, personally, think our education system needs to be scrapped. I acknowledge however that I am not a qualified expert on fixing large dysfunctional systems.

But fixing “the education issue” is a solution. Fix education. Individual education, group education, societal education. Respect for enlightenment (and the process of “education”) is key to fixing the problems.

Perhaps the first step is to defend your own right to knowledge and enlightenment, an activity which will earn you access to “education”. You have a right to not be misinformed. You have a right to learn the truth (about whatever). You have a right (and perhaps a responsibility) to continually learn.

If you think about it (if you can.. meaning if you have any time to think, have any environment free from distractions such that you can think, have any way to defer the demands of everyday life such that you can freely “think”) then you may see that many of today’s “problem issues” stem from the failure of all of us to get educated and stay informed (educated):

We take too many prescription drugs
We drink to much alcohol
We take on too much risk in our leisure activities, or not enough (what happened to the middle ground?)
We “hate” too quickly
We “love” too little
We are “alone” too much, and our “community time” is too stressful/unfulfilling
We are either not busy or too busy (e.g. underemployed or overworked)
We have little peace and are becoming entrained by ambient noise – which brings us back to the top of this list

When there are no jobs, there is pain and trouble. But the solution is not “more jobs”. The lack of jobs is a symptom of the real problem, as is most of the above. The problem is what medical doctors commonly call “a failure to thrive”, in this case applied to the human spirit and humanity.

As individuals we thrive when we can fulfill our personal destinies, which were at one time the product of our unique personal combination of genetics, physical and mental abilities, and personalities, nurtured in a development environment (family, friends, society). But once we started to impose constraints, and developed them into a system of control, empowered by surveillance and authority, we started to kill “education”. Where our ultimate life paths were once determined by our individual natures, supported and influenced by our surroundings, our life paths today are determined by our ability to break free of constraints, “cheat”, or settle for a selection of entitlements within reach (using coping skills like alcohol and drugs to manage our internal discontent).

It wouldn’t seem so bad if we were “happy” with that, but clearly we are not. And whether or not we acknowledge it, when it comes to humanity, defined as “thriving in life as a human”, the status quo is not sustainable.

Education. Awareness. Enlightenment. Information. Knowledge. Satisfaction. Happiness. Fulfillment. Love. Humanity.

Google Stifles Innovation, starts Strangling Itself

I’ve long claimed that Google’s efforts to regulate Internet publishing for it’s own commercial gain stifles innovation. I started this blog 2007 when it became clear that I needed to raise my profile as an SEO or get quietly destroyed via what could fairly be defined as anti-competitive practices. Google was getting big and powerful and had already shown many of us it would be playing hardball with any one who threatened to make money off it’s activities. That despite a managed public “do no evil” image.

Towards the end of 2007 it was clear how Google would lead, set up, and knock down SEO. Google has now completed most of that strategy. A careful analysis of the SEO world today would reveal an almost meaningless press, few if any actionable SEO guides coming out of citizen media (seo blogs), a virtual army of propagandists (some willing, many unwilling) spewing the “just make good content” junk, and more confusion than ever about what SEO is and whether or not it works, is safe, is spam, etc.

Those same actors who call SEO “spam” and proclaim a new age of content marketing based solely on a prayer that Google will reward creative content with traffic, previously helped push SEO under ground starting around 2009, where it had been and where I would have stayed had I not been forced to start blogging in 2007. Why would a sane, knowledgable, experienced tactical practitioner share actionable insights with a community of takers, who are also willing to bow to the competitor (Google) at first sign of the Almighty G being displeased?

Now, Google is larger and bolder than ever. And stifling innovation more than ever. As I casually watch the various stories of Google doing this or that, it’s pretty clear that Google feels threatened. Why? Bazillions is not enough? No, it’s not. Pride and avarice… pride and avarice. The difference today is that Google seems willing to be the bad guy, in order to secure and protect it’s control over the Internet Billions. It doesn’t seem to care that people don’t trust it, or dislike it.

In “Google yanks Adblock Plus from Google Play, Surprising Nobody“, Venturebeat reported that Google had dropped the super-popular ad blocking plugin from the downloads area developers are required to use to reach consumers. Google cited a policy violation related to conflict with Google’s commercial interests. That was the reason for the “Surprising Nobody” part from VentureBeat’s editors. But it did surprise some – those who believed Google’s promise to be open and encourage innovation. Clearly, innovation (even very, very popular innovation) is not allowed if it blocks Google from making money.

But that’s not all, folks. The ad blocking plugins have continued despite Google’s attempts to stop them. There are more of them now, and more options, and they are more popular. But the biggest one… the one that Google attempted to stifle back in March, now quietly allows Google’s ads to get through the blocker. Where it used to offer users the option of blocking Google’s ads, it now whitelists them, while still offering the users options for blocking other companies’ ads.

While the SEOs might immediately think Google’s threat of deindexing from Google search or exclusion from the Google Play download store would have been enough of a threat to cause such a reversal by the ad blocking plugin publisher, we now know it was cash. Google reportedly paid AdBlock Plus to whitelist Google’s ads. Some have estimated the saving for Google to be upwards of $800 million dollars.

Innovation? No longer relevant. Good for users? Not if it isn’t also Good for Google. And thus begins the decline of Google, in measurable ways.

We SEOs working the front lines of competitive publishing have always known that Google needs us in order to remain viable as a search engine. Now we know Google doesn’t need to remain viable as a search engine. Google search has been decaying for some time now, and will continue to decline in quality as Google manipulates publishing for advertising-driven commercial gain. It simply doesn’t matter, right now, for Google.

Public respect? Also doesn’t seem to matter so much. Cash is king. So “best for users” is no longer relevant. And I predict, as Google continues to learn that cash matters more than respect, and that users without choices really don’t need to be catered to (especially if you have the power to stifle innovation and corrupt talented disrupters), Google will strangle itself.

I’ll leave the “how” for homework, but historically it has something to do with moral bankruptcy, man’s search for meaning, the purpose of life and the man’s need for freedom/tolerance for abuse.

We can see it happening internally… Google is big and full of smart people. Some are moving towards hardware, some towards global initiatives, some towards other areas. But just as the Borg will be evil externally to protect it’s advertising cash, the organization can be expected to behave badly internally, when the ad-driven cash flow is disturbed. I think they know this… but don’t know what to do about it.

Which reminds me… sacred cows make the best hamburgers.

Note: this blog gets upwards of 40,000 spam comments per week, so comments are closed. Please discuss on social media.

Flying the SEO Helicopter

A very long time ago I was a programmer. Not a “coder”, but a programmer.

In the beautiful stone and walnut offices of a global corporation, I sat at a computer desk. It was special, because it had a slide out keyboard tray, was arranged to accommodate a screen placed in front of me when I sat in the chair. My arms were placed in front of me, with my hands on the keyboard. Except for the girls in secretarial pool and the men in “data processing”, no one else “sat that way”. Within the Engineering unit, my desk was a curiosity and a magnet for geeks. It was cool. It was the future.

My manager (a chemist) was a jovial, caring guy and a company man. I remember he came by one day and remarked “so you know how to fly one of these things?”

We came to refer to it as the Helicopter. I flew the helicopter. We had a team of Engineers, managers, and support people, and now the unit had a helicopter, and I was the pilot. They had big expectations for me.The helicopter was expensive and shiny and futuristic; amazing, even. The helicopter was going to do the “heavy lifting”. It was going to “save the day” on projects we could not otherwise do without computing power. And it was clear from day one that everyone else supported me as pilot partly because they expected that, over time, I would teach them how to fly it themselves (or fly one they would get on their own desk, someday).

Fast forward and we’re all spending our days flying these things. But are we doing any heavy lifting? Are we getting the job done, saving the day, enabling the team? Or are we just “flying around” like one of those toy indoor helicopters, putzing around the room dodging lamps and co-workers’ monitors until we run out of battery power and drop to the floor? And we call it work.

More than ever, we have ways to keep “busy” with SEO. The old stand-byes “keyword research” and “competitive analysis” and “SERP analysis” can keep us busy day after day. With TRILLIONS of links in place on the world wide web, we could link analyze for weeks if left alone to our cockpits. And I suppose every one of you SEOs out there could rationalize and justify the effort and expense (and many of you agency types do just that.. for a living). The helicopter is now cheap, fast, and mobile. The fuel is cheap as well, but it turns out there are two kinds of fuel for SEO helicopters. The kind the machine needs to fly (basic software and electricity), and the kind we need to actually do any work with it (seo data sets, seo tools, and accurate and effective information). The latter fuel is not cheap at all. And it’s been getting more and more expensive.

Knowing how to fly one of these things is not worth much any more. Knowing how to get the work done is.

The next time you find yourself putzing on your computer while allegedly “working”, imagine a pilot buzzing around the landscape in the company helicopter, burning fuel and not accomplishing much besides increasing the basic flying skills of the pilot (a valid endeavor, for sure… but not “heavy lifting” and probably not helping the team save the day. Is that you? Do you deserve to be sitting in that seat? Or is there someone to your left or right who, given some opportunity, would be a much more effective helicopter pilot for your team’s ambitions?

These days I try and have as many helicopters as I can flying around the job site. I’ll put anyone into the pilot seat, and give them fuel, and get them started. Go make a difference. Go figure out a better way to approach our goal lines. Show us a better way. Do some heavy lifting. Save the day. Prove yourself worthy of the pilot seat. Go. For. It.

SEO is not about tools or processes, but people. I suspect that will increasingly become the case, as tools continue to get bigger and more complex, and more and more “pilots” spend their days buzzing around the office with their cool helicopters and fancy fuels.

Penguin 2.0 Forewarning Propaganda?

Eric Enge recently published an essay entitled “Penguin 2.0 Forewarning: The Google Perspective on Links”. I know about it because Matt Cutts referred to it as a “good article”. It was about links and link building, and Google’s Penguin updates. For those who don’t know, Penguin Updates are updates Google pushes out which penalize web sites that are not big brands and which Google believes have incoming links that influence their rankings (or appear to be intended to influence search rankings).

I would like to step through the article here in this blog post, and show why I believe this is illegitimate pro-Google propaganda. I don’t know Eric personally, so I can’t speak to his character. I hope he recognizes my post for what it is – an objective analysis based on what I see in his article, and have experienced with Google over the years. I’d love to know otherwise.

Note: Eric Enge is not Google

Eric clearly states “I don’t work for Google” but he also states “let’s step back and discuss what Google wants a link to represent” as if he knows what Google wants. He also cites his interview of Matt Cutts, and as I noted, Matt Cutts issued a promotional tweet of Eric’s article. Eric’s professional bio on his consulting website highlights the fact that he interviewed Matt Cutts, and the about page makes ample reference to inferred authority via “access” to “industry leaders” he interviews. I think it’s fair to say Eric trades on the good graces bestowed to him by authority figures in search world, and so it’s fair to review his article here.

I find Eric’s article to be yet another unsettling example of Google’s direct and indirect manipulation of web publishing for its own gain, at the expense of innovation, free speech, and free enterprise.

Eric is a professional link builder, and sells his services throughout the article. That Matt endorsed the article troubles me, because the idea of select professional link builders getting endorsements from the head of Google’s team to judge websites seems very, very dangerous in a conflict of interest way.

I do acknowledge that maybe Eric doesn’t know he’s “working for Google” in the way I alluded to long ago in my tongue-in-cheek “I’m Going to Work for Google” post. With a self-proclaimed “30 years” in the industry, I think he should.

I’ll address the essay topic by topic:

1. About “Links Must Be Citations”

Eric draws parallels between a “research paper” with citations in the footnotes or reference section, and web links. He suggests

“The professor only lists (links) to the other papers most relevant to and most important to to their paper. You can’t buy that, and never occurred to researchers to try and do that with each other. This system was pure at its heart.”

Now I will accept that Eric may never have engaged in formal “research”, but I know Matt Cutts worked in a University library and knows better than to accept this simple assertion as real. Not only CAN you actually “buy” professors (and citations), the concept of citation as a measure of merit didn’t last very long in the research world when it was used as an objective measure of merit. To this day, that system has to be carefully “managed” by people, because it is not very “objective”.

Oh sure the top scientists won’t risk their reputations citing unworthy works (other than their own and those of their colleagues – which they do routinely), but nearly every other researcher routinely does chase citations (and trade them with sympathetic colleagues). When the Citations Index is used as part of review for Promotion and Tenure in an academic setting, gaming does indeed take place. Academic concepts like the “Least Publishable Unit” – that smallest amount of unique information that will justify a stand-alone “paper”, arose out of the need for more publications (and more citations) to pad the CV for career advancement. This “gaming” started precisely because publications and citations were listed as “objective criteria” for promotion and tenure.

The argument that links should be like fictional “pure” citations is part of the Google myth. Super-successful pure SEO plays like FindTheBest (which Google has promoted as a model of the future) would never survive without gaming the Google algorithm, including “unnatural” linking/cross-linking.

Eric notes that the original Page Rank algorithm was based on the idea of citation, as if that helped support his claim that “Links must be citations”. In fact, I’d suggest that the reason the original Page Rank algorithm didn’t work was because links are NOT citations.

2. About “Infographics”

I don’t see Eric saying anything meaningful about infographics in this section, but I do know that including “infographics” in a list of things to worry about is 100% in line with Matt Cutts’ (Google’s) current agenda. I do see that when he says this:

“many infographics are inaccurate or unrelated topically to the page receiving the link. Even without these problems it is likely that the great majority of people republishing infographics aren’t thoughtfully endorsing the page they end up linking too.”

it is basically a regurgitation of Google’s standard line about infographics. However, perhaps most disturbing, this assertion promotes bias.

Google is too smart to actually say that people who republish (link to) “sexy infographics” don’t actually know if the graphics are in fact accurate or not. That highlights censorship and bias. Eric’s hint at Google’s censorship of free speech and publishing is troubling. If Google can diminish the value of linking because it doesn’t believe the people actually fully-endorsed the material they linked to, consider the chilling effect on free speech and promotion/marketing. As a marketer you effectively influence the marketplace to “move them” towards your desired action (to distribute your message), but Google doesn’t believe those people actually fully understand your message, so your efforts can be blocked. Wow. That’s like a tyrant over-riding a democratic election because he feels the people didn’t really know what they were doing electing that guy. When did that become “ok”?

3. About “Including rich anchor text links inside a guest post”

Eric starts this section with a note about “The New York Times”:

“If the New York Times accepted a guest post from you, what are the chances that they would let you load rich anchor text links inside your post back to the blatant money-making page on your site? Not a chance.”

I don’t argue about blatant “make money fast” links embedded in content, but I do have an issue with claims that the New York Times linking policies are models of editorial purity. I could go back in time and pick apart the ways that institution has succeeded in influencing public opinion (for profit and / or power) and rewriting history throughout its lifetime, but we don’t have time for that and I’m not the right expert to undertake the task. I could also point to the concept of the “linking black hole” (promoted by the NYTimes) and how that has hurt the world wide web, or how the newspaper industry in general has done almost everything wrong when it comes to Internet publishing (especially serving users).

Before Google got involved, users (the ones who are supposed to be served by web publishing) looked at anchor text as a signal of what was behind the link. It was a bright and bold, royal blue, and underlined, and the text used communicated what prize awaited the clicker. There was no doubt what this meant (to the user).

This “hypertext” concept was very effective. If the New York Times followed the model of hypertext it could very easily link to “how she made $5000 in one day using her laptop” right in the middle of an essay. As long as that link produced an answer to “how did she make all that money working from home on her laptop” then everything would be fine. Merchants would make money, some readers would be served, and publishers would get a cut for disseminating the message.

We can’t do that today for no other reason than : when we do that, Google has a hard time ranking websites the way it wants to.

That’s correct. The ONLY reason is to enable Google search, as it is designed today.Don’t forget that — this entire conversation about links and publishing “requirements” is to enable Google to find and rank websites to create Google.com. Profitably. There is no other reason.

Aside from the ways that Google wants to make money for itself, or the ways that such legitimate in-line links make Google’s job of making easy profits harder, I don’t see Eric’s point about the New York Times and in-line links. That is a reason I think it might be pro-Google propaganda piece, more than thoughtful SEO article.

4. About “Guest posts that are only loosely related to the topic of the page receiving the link”

In discussing “guest posts” Eric comments on links with descriptive anchor text and says “A link like this smells more like ‘payment’ than a legitimate endorsement.

Really this is the same Google myth described previously.. that there is some pure non-commercial “endorsement” action we should all be limiting ourselves to publishing in our articles. There isn’t, and there never will be. We are all humans, so there will always be information asymmetry and varying levels of awareness and education among readers, and society (including economies) will always be driven be people and their politics. Google knows this, and Google plays the game with its own Washington lobbyists, collaborates with world governments and organizations like the Federal Trade Commission, and engages in PR and propaganda efforts disguised as “personal blogs” and endorsements of others’ essays.

And as long as there can never be a “black and white” definition of what is “legitimate”, Great Institutions like the New York Times and Google are able to make boat loads of cash riding the undefined edges while imposing their myths upon the rest of us as suits their operational goals. I believe this “article” endorses and supports that abuse of power.

5. About award badges

Since I’m not reproducing Eric’s article here, you really should read it (go to searchenginewatch on the dot com TLD and request resource assigned URL /article/2259674/Penguin-2.0-Forewarning-The-Google-Perspective-on-Links.

The topic of “Awards badges” isn’t really addressed, but again by including it in the list, Eric has aided Google’s PR mission. We all know that citing a few extreme examples of “bad apples” is never a valid argument, but that’s what he does to suggest “award badges” are not a good idea. But, and here’s some nuance… he suggests that the award badges are easy targets for penalties “when the award badges seem to appear only on the lesser authoritative sites of a market segment“. Does that make them less legitimate?

This is a perfect example of Google’s brand bias, and another example of Google thinking it’s ok to stifle innovation (since innovations do not usually show up in the major leagues first, innovations will get stifled under this approach to defining links as legitimate).

When markets are controlled such that efforts to serve them are not rewarded until the big established brands accept and endorse them, those markets are not free. In fact, they are doomed to fail.

That’s More Than Enough

Whew. That’s all that was covered in the article, except for a final section addressing how to qualify links you’ve built to make sure they’re acceptable. I don’t really get that part, because if all of the above is true about Google, why would anyone still hire a link builder and bother to apply qualification tests to the links that were built?

Oh… I get it. Because it’s a game! I think I get it now.

The rules say only honest editorial links count, and everything else is ripe for Penguin penalties. BUT, we all know (wink wink nudge nudge) that this isn’t REALLY true. So then we need experts to tell us how to build links that look legitimate, even though they aren’t. And it behooves us to pick the experts that are endorsed by Google, since they have the best information on how the game is REALLY played. And even if we can’t be sure if they are right or not, Googlers will chime in here and there to (wink wink nudge nudge) “let us know” who we can trust.

The only part that still confuses is me is why we should ever consider trusting these experts when they publish SEO articles. How could it not be pro-Google propaganda?

If you want to discuss, please discuss on social media.

Dedicated Class “C” IP addresses for SEO

The liars and schemers in the world are costing all of us a lot of money and “happiness” every day, but get away with it because in general, good people forgive them. So the bad guys go on and on hurting others. What does this have to do with SEO? Hah! Everything.

I just spent 2 hours on an issue that should not have taken 2 hours. It consumed the “extra” 2 hours (inefficiency in our world) because Google makes so many mistakes (at best) which spread disinformation, and because Google forcefully imposes it’s will to out-compete everyone else (at worst) for profit.

I believe the VAST MAJORITY of SEO publishers are complicit in those efforts. In other words, if you are an SEO person and you publish to the web about SEO, I am indeed blaming you for making things worse, and costing me that lost 2 hours (or at least 80% of you).

The cycle of silliness in web publishing related to search engines is endless and complex and laughable, if not only super boring. Many smart people have moved on not because they got tired of SEO, but because they got so tired of the nonsense time wasting parts of SEO that exist for no other reason than the fact that Google seems to create the mess on purpose, and seemingly clueless seo “professionals” propagate it.

Here I was teaching someone about SEO, and just this one little SEO issue cost over 2 hours to pursue with no useful information outcome.

I went back through a decent amount of the SEO “literature” about dedicated IP addresses for SEO. What trash! From the super-authoritative sounding rants of full-of-nonsense seo haters, to the imposter authority of Matt Cutts posting on his “unofficial” blog, and including contributions from Cisco-certified networking specialists who apparently have never had a real job,  as well as non-certified networking gurus who understand network architecture. Oh my god so much garbage and incorrect/deceptive information.

The CORE issue stems from SEO experts who say (over and over at every SEO meetup for like 15 years) that SEO demands a dedicated IP address for a website. From there, the nonsense begins. A reader of the historical record traverses a dizzying path of misinformation. Assumptions rule, and misdirection is common. Marketers (including accomplished propagandists like Matt Cutts) cleverly employ these situational factors to deliver point after point out of context, in ways that help confirmation-biased novices to conclude all sorts of “facts”. Hosting companies and vendors feed at the trough of confusion. One even named itself “SEO Hosting”, which I can only assume was a conscious decision to take the profits of successful marketing despite the risks of SEO. If that wasn’t the case? Then how sad was THAT!

Substitute any other common and valid “SEO question” for this IP address one, and it’s the same story. It’s no wonder so many web publishers suffered left-handed hockey stick growth charts in 2012, as Google ran off with the Internet money.

I attended a gold mining expo last week, and watched a seminar on panning for gold. For the demo, the miner loaded his dish with silt and water and then planted 12 flecks of “real gold” into it. After panning it empty, he had 10 of the 12 sitting all alone in the dish. Wow. That stuff is shiny! And the first comment from the peanut gallery when he showed off his black pan with 10 bright flecks of gold was.. “if you want to get rich panning for gold, sell gold panning equipment!”.

Exactly.

Google’s SERPs are a cesspool, and Google has been helping to fill it with crap. And all the while, fallible, judgmental, often righteous and commonly misguided Google employees flash the bright orange promise of the carrot, and whip the threatening penalty stick at web publishers, as if to fuel the fires of confusion… while they steal the profits and run off to the bank.

I don’t use terms like “fallible” and “judgmental” and “righteous” and “misguided” loosely. I have specific experience, repeatedly over the past 15+ years, to back up those labels assigned to Google and Google employees. It’s fact. But that doesn’t change things. They’ve been this way since the beginning, whether or not you chose to believe it back then (or now).

So what’s the answer to the dedicated IP address and Class “C” block issue, when dealing with SEO web hosting? The same as it has been FOREVER in SEO land. Nothing has changed. The stakes are higher than ever. The stick flies faster than it ever did, and I suggest the righteousness and misguided parts are also at all-time highs

But what’s “the answer”?? Do you need a dedicated IP address for SEO, or doesn’t it matter? The answer, is that it doesn’t matter.

Those of you who are still here, should think about that a second. I used an indefinite pronoun in that last sentence. A propagandist’s tactic. In this case, “what doesn’t matter” is the answer to the question. The answer doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters when considering unique IPs and SEO website hosting is what you do on your IP address and what Google does to your traffic. And that’s the secret to SEO. That is also why it doesn’t make sense to publish “how to” information on the topic of SEO, like articles about unique IP addresses and SEO hosting.

Let Google sell you on how there’s no technical difference between IP and name-based hosting. Let hosting companies sell you on how to rank better with unique, randomized “class c” IP addresses. Let the networking geeks proclaim the silliness of the nomenclature, or cite the practical realities. Let the SEO “experts” demonstrate how their worlds are fueled by correlations and assumptions, or reason and logic. But NONE of it matters.

The only thing that matters is how much traffic you are getting from search engines today, and how prepared you are for when some (insert adjective here) Googler shuts off that flow of traffic. And while you work on that… how much money you are making from search engine referrals to your IP address today, and what you will do when that stops (tomorrow?), make a decision about unique IP addresses for SEO web hosting

Additional Cheats to the Topic:

  • when a Googler takes action against you, starting with a “look” at “what you are up to”, what will they see?
  • when a Googler launches an automated profiler or script to “gather accurate information”, what will it produce?
  • when the anonymous and all-benevolent yet not-responsible “algorithm” analyzes and classifies your site in the web, what will it think?

New Domain Extensions (gTLDs) Could Change Everything

A slew of now top level domains are coming, thanks to a bold move by ICANN originally intended to spur innovation on the web. “What would you do if you could register any top level domain“, they asked the world’s entrepreneurs. Free of constraints of name availability on the standard dot com and other top level domains, how could you advance the Internet?

Despite such noble intentions, the new gTLD program turned into basically just another commercial push for more domain registrations, driven by businesses hoping to sell virtual products (registrations) to speculators and trademark defenders.

Usually speed of innovation is a key factor for progress on technical platforms like the Internet. Act fast and innovate, to build market share before competitors can muster the courage to follow along on what is likely a risky ride. Conversely, a sluggish pace  of implementation, combined with what seems to be controlling efforts stopped this dog from racing in my opinion.

Nobody can “innovate” if they have to invest cash up front in advance, broadcast their intentions, and wait YEARS while others develop copycat, competing, or parasitic business plans.

Rather than an exercise promising rewards for innovation, the new gTLD program is just more “big business” promising rewards for old-school registrars and those who follow on those established practices. Unless.

Unless Google decides to play along.

Should you pay to reserve YourTown.pizza when it becomes available? Not unless you think it will be useful. And with basically everyone using Google to find local pizza, won’t that success depend on how your web site does in Google? We’ve already seen Google manhandle Yelp in the search results… so no doubt Google’s the real player in pizza (when it wants to be).

The web marketing game remains one of “remarkable website functioning as part of a remarkable business” while “exploiting loopholes” and “avoiding penalties and filters”, whether those are artificially imposed or market natural. If you do something Google doesn’t approve of, you lose. If you piss off your customers, you lose. But most of all, far out of proportion to all other factors involved, if Google decides to give your business a boost (for any reason), you win.

That’s right.. if Google decides (unilaterally, without any obligation to notify anyone, nor any obligation to maintain anything for any reason) to boost .pizza to the top of the local rankings for “pizza in your town” searches, your .pizza website will make you a fortune. And there will be only one YourTown.pizza available for registration. Will Google do that?

Or will Google ban townname.pizza domains, again unilaterally without consequence, for any reason? It would not be unusual, since townname.pizza competes with Google as a directory of local pizza, and doesn’t otherwise reflect any unique character of the pizza business publishing on it. What will Google do?

I attended a conference the other day where the SEOs on the SEO panel noted how select SEOs were “really good friends” with Matt Cutts of Google’s “search quality team”. Wow. Which SEO would you hire… the one over there or this other one that’s “great friends” with Google? No one call them them out on it… and the web marketing game continues.

A big marketing firm recently published on it’s website that it had inside connections at Google. It claimed to be such an important customer of Google, that Google reps “often called” them with advice on how to deal with algorithm changes. Wow. What a great firm to hire, right? Of course they scrambled to take that down when it was highlighted (partly because it’s not true; mostly because of risk of fallout from being outed as manipulating the market by Google name dropping).

The truth is that Google can make or break any web strategy. Will it boost any of these new gTLDs into success? What about .pizza or .movie?

Hard to imagine it won’t take efforts to secretly “manage” some gTLDs. Google has been caught “managing” other TLDs in the past (.info for sure, probably .biz). Google has also damaged many business by ignoring some extensions while favoring others. Despite having promised to reward proper use of local gTLDs by local businesses, Google’s refusal to acknowledge .US hurt any that published on .US hoping to compete in their markets while following the “rules”. I have never seen any evidence of .US domains achieving any of the status Google granted to .com. .org, and .net, for example.

So which of the new gTLDs will be winners, and why? We’re back to speculating on domain names, just-like-before. And the big winners are the domain name registrars and re-sellers. The big losers are you.. the consumer of web domains, now forced to speculate or defend your trademarks by spending more money on domain registrations that will likely never be utilized on the web.

And then of course there’s the complication that Google also submitted applications for a set of the new gTLDs. I won’t go there.

One thing is certain: the new gTLDs could change everything, but only if Google wants things to change. What can we do?

My recommendation is to cozy up to Matt Cutts because clearly, being friends with Matt makes you a rare breed of SEO consultant. There is no doubt that the SEO on that conference panel — the one that was good friends with Matt Cutts — had a huge advantage over every other seo in the room (at least when it came to closing new business).

Similarly if you can find out what other Google employees are compromised,  get into that game as well (like that Marketing Agency claims it has done with its Google reps). That’s where the winning opportunity lies — insider knowledge of how the algorithms work is gold for SEO.

Inside knowledge of which gTLDs Google will boost is the key to winning with new gTLDs for sure.

Want to Comment? Don’t comment here.. post your comment to social media (twitter, Facebook, your own blog) to be heard. Link back to this if you want.. I’ll leave it up for a while. This is an important issue so please do speak your opinion somewhere.

Kapost Review

My Kapost Review: Why I won’t be Using KaPost

I’ve been using various content workflow systems over the years and recently discovered KaPost.com via a brief, sentiment-free mention on CopyPress. I watched the demo. I logged into the sample instance, and “played around”. I spend about 2 hours with it overall, and another 1.5 or so reading online about KaPost and Eloqua, etc. I believe I figured out a way that I could get considerable value out of using it with my content teams.

And then I looked at the deal: minimum $1200 per month for up to 8 users, limited to 5 content types. Plus they with hold the persona matrix. And that, plus a few other hints collected during my evaluation, means I won’t be using Kapost for content marketing.

Now it is important to note that I am not choosing based on price. At $1200 for 8 users, that’s $150/user and I would gladly pay that for a true productivity tool. The centralized workflow management and monitoring is additional value beyond the productivity gains. It’s not a bad price if it does what it promises to do. But does it?

Kapost seems strangely distant. I am not citing facts here, just my observations. I’m pretty good with Google and I am pretty good with observations. In my perusal of what-I-could-find-on-Kapost I did not come across friendly, outgoing, helpful people associated with the brand nor the product. At all. Trust? I could find much to build on in the trust department. Why is that?

You content marketers might recognize what is happening here… I’m floundering at the top of the conversion funnel. I discovered the brand and product, visited the website, and “entered the conversion funnel”. I then got lost… picking up signals of non-trust, while not finding signals of trust. I didn’t continue down the funnel… I bounced around the edges. Why is that?

Not to mention the irony that this is a product designed to be used by people charged with the task of drawing prospects DOWN the funnel, once they have entered. For the SEOs out there, perhaps no surprise that a “content marketing” industry company didn’t do the basic SEO needed to help me find the necessary signals. Hard to believe they didn’t generate the off-site content needed to accomplish same. Trust me when I report that I returned to Google a half dozen times at least. I really wanted Kapost to work for me.

Then there were those “huh?” observances. Like a tweet from someone who works there, that basically said it was a good day when he woke up to see a new, paying customer in the queue. Really? Are things THAT bad? Content Marketing is big right now. Either there aren’t many customers, or there aren’t many PAYING customers? And I’m being asked to pay $1200 per month. Scary.

There were a few other “scary” signs, but like I said, this is not fact, just my observations and how they made me feel. But I still liked what Kapost does, and so was still willing to take a risk and put it to use. That may have been stupid, but sometimes I win when I follow my hunches. In this case, I needed a few positives to overcome my negative sentiment. I hit Google gain, and (strangely??) didn’t find any. So I returned to read the details.

At $1200/month, I get limited support (with 48 hour response time). Oh, and the persona matrix (which had been highlighted as a great feature which kapost puts in front of users all-the-time since it’s so essential) was with held for $1200/month customers. They have to pay extra to get it.

Withholding the persona matrix is another clue to company attitude (in my opinion). Withholding is an approach to business. I find that companies that make awesome products and help customers get access to them, succeed. Companies that strip down products to create lesser products, in an attempt to service “different markets”, don’t succeed. Like the American car companies of the 80’s. They built cars according to how they felt they could sell them into specific economic demographics, to make profits. It wasn’t about building a great car.. it was about providing just enough car to get customer X to buy it, while still making good profits. They withheld electric door locks, cup holders, and even intermittent windshield wipers unless extra fees were paid, while Toyota and Honda delivered all the goods to everyone. Guess who succeeded? Guess who know sells the best selling cars in the world? Both Honda and Toyota went on to also create luxury brands that are now among the best selling cars in the world.

With kapost, the basic decision for me, after my review, was not whether or not kapost was a good choice for content production flow management and scheduling. The question is whether Kapost (the company) would be a trustworthy partner in my business. If it worked as intended, I wouldn’t need support except when I needed help figuring out how to make it do what I was trying to do. In that case, 48 hours is fine. I would figure it out by then. But what if it doesn’t do what it is supposed to do? I wait 48 hours to learn that yes, it doesn’t do what it is supposed to do? And then?

Gnawing questions remain, giving me concern. Why not much out there about actually using and dealing with kapost? Why so little personality around the company and the customers’ interface to the company?

No dice. I can’t buy kapost.

I’ve been in this business a long time, and used dozens of innovative IT products. Every one has flaws… and we have to deal with those. My sense is that I will not have a good experience with Kapost. It will have flaws, and the company won’t give me access to understand whatever unusual behavior is encountered except with a 48 hour turn around. Given the history of pricing for kapost (from reasonable per-user-per month fees to the current $1200/month plus extras), maybe they can’t afford to develop the product. Maybe they are so strapped they won’t even fix them. Maybe it’s been built by people who have full time jobs somewhere else, hence the lack of a social profile for all but the president or whatever. Maybe they need my $1200 to make sure it works when I use it. Maybe they’re chasing the Fortune 500 Big Brand market now, in an attempt to close service business (helping to run it?) or those famous pay-the-recurring-billing-and-never-use-the-product Big Brand accounts. Either way, Kapost is not for me.

PS: This is not a slam.. I’ve never even used the full product. This is an essay on why, after all the review and testing I’ve done, I will not be choosing kapost.

Aaron Von Frankenstein

I’ve seen plenty of blog posts lately about Aaron. What Aaron did. How What Aaron Did is not much different from “what we do” every day, where “we” refers to tech-savvy Internet users. Aaron was accused. Aaron was indicted. Aaron was attacked by the powers that be, captured, cornered, labeled a criminal and sentenced to prison. There are allegations of abuse, of misdeeds, of inhumanity and insensitivity.

What I’m not seeing is The Truth.

I see that Aaron was indicted for using the same identity obfuscation we routinely use to avoid getting spam. That Aaron used the same technology we use every day surfing the web. That Aaron was indicted for doing things his own accusers do in the normal course of daily operations. That Aaron broke a terms of service that most people never read and hundreds of thousands violate every week.

Oh sure I see “facts”, and truthful assertions of fact. No doubt. But I’m not seeing an acknowledgement that most of those facts don’t matter.  I’m not seeing recognition of the “higher truth” that governs our society in cases like Aaron’s (and yours in the future, if you are in fact doing the same things Aaron did).  Some say “the truth will set you free” but it rarely does. Recognition of The Truth, however, could keep you out of prison.

The Truth is that every pitchfork march against an accused starts with a quiet conversation between 2 people. Sometimes it ends there. The Truth is that a quiet conversation destined to advance further towards indictment, is followed by a private conversation between a small number of influential people. Many end there.

The accusations that end in pitchfork marches first continued beyond the small group private conversation to a dispersed debate amongst a still small but less connected “group” of individuals. Only when consent was established, did the pitchfork march planning begin. And consent, according to The Truth, can and does include uninformed consent, coerced consent, extorted consent, implied consent, and assumed consent.  Without consent from many, there is no pitchfork march. There is no righteous justice. There is no hanging. There is probably no suicide, either.

Often one can trace the unsavory aspects of  injustice back to those few people involved in the earliest conversations… the “two people” and those involved in the “small private conversation”.  They had an agenda, and “worked it” until they had adequate consent to rally authority and enforcement power. In the old days, when people cared about being held responsible for the ruin of another man, these few drove the issue hard. “She’s very odd, it starts as a whisper, which morphs into “there’s something un-natural about her” at a group meeting.  Soon the crowd is shouting ”she’s a witch” and everyone agrees she needs to burn.

I think the scariest part of all of this is when deals are being made to establish consent for prosecution. That’s when the paper value of a victim’s life increases in value beyond reason.  That’s when killing becomes justified. When your life stands between a man and millions of dollars in profit, or a man and tremendous political power, you don’t have much chance. But things didn’t start in that scary place. They started with a conversation between two people, and conversations between small groups of people.

And you were not part of that conversation. Not even one of you. The Truth is that “reason”, the kind of reason you techno-savvy Internet people exhibit and understand, was absent from the early conversations that manufactured consent to indict and prosecute Aaron.

The Truth is that while you rant online about the people in the system who don’t “get it”, it is you who does not “get it”. You don’t “get” that men pursuing agendas make rules that other men enforce out of duty or fear. Our society is ruled by laws. Laws are made by men and women who rarely use technology more sophisticated than a vanilla smart phone, ipad, or Windows PC.

The seeds of action are sown not in technology, but in basic human nature at the local level. As long as you choose to not participate in offline, non-tech, uninteresting local conversations that sometimes lead to pitch fork parades, you will be helpless to stop the ultimate parade that destroys Aaron, or your co-worker, or you.

Frankenstein was a monster.  It’s simple, really. He had to be killed.

2013 is The Year of the Proxy

If we learned anything from 2012, it’s that Google is in control, and apparently the FTC agrees. Google can do what it wants, and has the cash to fund the lobbyists to get formal “approvals” that hedge liability. But Google isn’t the biggest threat.

Google is a fairly low risk threat compared to many of the far more aggressive, more desperate players that will “pile on” as Google advances these new cultural standards of privacy and ethical corporate behavior cloaked as “protecting the user experience”. For every inch Google secures for itself, scammy-er players will take a mile. There are too many of these aggressors to count, but you know many of them already: Verizon, cable companies, Bell South, etc etc. Everyone who has access to your info or control over your access to information and technology, will cash in as possible.

The legal stuff is in place already, and the consumer protections gutted. Your activity data and personal information is the currency of the decade, and everyone is trading it, usually without your consent (and often without your knowledge). Sometimes I get the sense that Facebook is a distraction. “Oh my, look at how Facebook is violating your privacy”.. meanwhile your credit card activity is being sold, your driver license is being resold, your Netflix viewing preferences are being sold, your medical data is being “shared” with the MIB, and your DNA can be collected and analyzed from the public airspace without your consent nor involvement.

Entrepreneurs have attached high def cameras to cars that drive around all data solely to collect license plate activity data, because they know someone will pay for that some day. Drive around all day? For no reason, except to film the public streets and digitally record the presence of specific cars, via license plates designed for easy image recognition? Yes. Compared to information about you, gas, drivers, cars, and insurance are cheap!

And as companies continue to lock the IP as “identifier” for your residence, MAC addresses and OS hashes as identifiers of your devices, secretly raid your contacts list whenever you do anything that grants permission to apps, and require “real names” and “recognizable photos” for social media accounts, the proxy will rise in value.

I predict that 2013 will be the Year of the Proxy.

The value of a proxy.. the “substitute” that will stand in and represent you (instead of you being there, yourself) will rise tremendously in 2013. Identity proxies, communication (routing) proxies. Environment (OS, browser, device) proxies. And as that value rises, the technology to proxy will become more sophisticated. As proxy technology becomes more accessible, those players trading on our data will invest to defeat them. Coalitions will be formed, and more organized trading institutionalized. Many of you will get jobs working FOR those seeking to own us and defeat the proxies.

Expect the traditional resistance to our increasing resistance to being tracked and herded. “First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they attack you…” has already started. In the SEO world, the “ridicule” stage in the form of “conspiracy theory” claims started 15 years ago or more. When Google went public, it declared SEO as a major threat to the Google business model. Obviously I recall much of that “history of SEO”, but I suspect everyone with SEO “common sense” by today’s standards recognizes Google is not what Google said it was years ago. The same is true for the other players… and each of us must decide how we will participate in their world going forward. For many of us, the proxy will continue to serve, and we will need stronger and more sophisticated proxy technology in order to survive.

Keep in mind “proxy” includes social media avatars, trade names, aliases, secondary accounts, actual proxy servers for communications routing, abstracted interfaces, IP rotators, cookie managers, lawyers, corporations, and numerous other “everyday tools of business” that cost money and are not generally available to “normal” everyday citizens (the same ones that are told “if you have nothing to hide, what are you afraid of???”).

Beware those who tell you you have no privacy, and should “get over it”, and those who suggest that “maybe you shouldn’t be doing” whatever you are hiding behind a proxy.

By the way, the threat of making the proxy “illegal” is very real, and some efforts are already known (in some cases, it is already legally defined as arguably “fraud”). Personally, I expect the public to be just barely smart enough to prevent that from really happening in the near future, although I don’t expect us to avoid a period of the “I can’t believe they actually passed that law” reality here in the US.

Preparing for the Google Apocalypse

The Currency of Search Marketing is Influence (and Zombies)

We all seem to appreciate the use of Zombies as models of “enemies”. If there’s one real power zombies have, it’s the power to influence people. I don’t know a single human who is aware of the nature of zombies (fast ones that can fly, slow ones that never stop advancing, all of them eat you alive, etc.) who would not run away from a zombie without second thought. More than war, natural disaster, disease or random acts of violence carried out by crazy psycho killers, to us zombies define a complete lack of “humanity”.

For years the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) experienced difficulty getting Americans to prepare for any potential disasters, partly because we live in denial and are always pursuing “dreams”. We tend to ignore anyone who suggests things might come crashing down while we’re building wealth and moving up the ladder. That shit happens to OTHER people. But when they produced “How to Prepare for the Zombie Apocalypse”, people paid attention.

Ammunition maker Hornady successfully re-branded one of its powerful self-defense handgun rounds as “Zombie Max”, which it promotes as a way you can “supply yourself for the Zombie Apocalypse”. Of course the same product in a different box, now costs more.

Gun advocates have always had trouble picking “targets”. If you shoot for sport or as part of training in weapons handling, you shoot a target. Usually it’s paper. Range operators face complaints from advocate groups when they allow people to shoot the targets they bring with them to the range (an evil-looking street thug with a gun, who is almost always black or Hispanic; a picture of a uniformed police officer; a picture of Obama, etc). Yet when they tack up a picture of a bloody-mouthed zombie, nobody cares.

Zombies are persuasive.

The currency of SEO is persuasion, not traffic or rankings.

This is not a new realization. Many of us have studied persuasion for almost as along as we’ve studied SEO. Recently a major search conference featured an author/psychologist focused on persuasion and “the power of influence” as the keynote speaker.

But what might be new to you, is that currencies can and are manipulated on a regular basis by governing powers, which includes governments, banks, and political entities. If you can manipulate the currency, you can control the economy.

The same way we’ve seem nations “manage” currencies (China, Brazil, US, GB, etc) we see Google managing the currency of the Internet (“traffic”, via “rankings”). Traffic reflects earned attention and raised awareness, and drives commerce. We can expect Google to manipulate the currency as a means of controlling the economy. We can expect similar behavior of any large, powerful, forward-thinking, profit-oriented entity.

But the currency of SEO is not traffic. Can persuasion be manipulated?

As we prepare for “zombie apocalypse” where the currencies in play in our society face manipulation (and perhaps collapse), how will you survive? If the dollar is devalued, if massive stores of pure gold are discovered on a nearby asteroid, if Google takes away your traffic, how will you survive?

Think about your personal influence and the influence you can manage without dollars or gold or permission from Google. Think about how people throughout history have sought karma, invested in social credits, and injected good will into their communities, as a way to “prep” for disaster. Think about it.

We may be “search marketers” and “search engine optimizers” who work within the confines of an economy controlled (manipulated) by Google, but our currency is persuasion. Persuasion within a market niche transcends Google.

If you’re not preparing for a “Google Apocalypse” and hoarding persuasion instead of rankings or keyword relevance, you may find yourself walking the streets stunned and directionless, searching for your next meal. And no one will care about you.

Rank #1 in Google for Your Name (for a fee)

If you could purchase the rights to rank first on the first page of Google for your name, in a specially-colored listing (perhaps a light green or light blue background), would you pay $100 per year for that privilege?

You could use it to publish about yourself… a web page similar to a Google profile page. You’d have to follow the guidelines, of course, which would prohibit only the typical prohibited stuff. Everything else would be ok, because the format would be controlled. The basic info and your primary “pitch” about yourself would be up front and center. Everything else would be “hidden” beneath clicks. Only those users who wanted to read your “Why Jesus is my Saviour” would have to see it.There could be an unlimited number of such optional “additional info” sections up there, so you can publish as much as you like.

And if you have a common name (as I do), would you pay that fee and then submit to a randomized fairness ranking, such that on average, across the month’s time, your profile ranked at the top just about as much as every other person with your name who had signed on to the rotation service? Of course there would be a monthly re-opt-in required to keep you in page 1. Those who didn’t care enough to renew would lose position to those who did. Sort of a “profile deserves freshness” system.

Since this “top spot” is clearly marked as a placed “identity” listing, it would expand downwards for anyone who clicked to see “more people named NNNNN”. At that point their indicated their intend to find info ABOUT a person with that name, so the results will be all (randomized) exact-match profiles for that name, plus Google “suggest” or course, which would clue you into the latest “John Doe arrested new york” etc scandals.

This is an example of a value-added Google service that cuts direct to the “end user” for maximum monetization. At the $100 symbolic  fee for such a listing, Google would collect much more revenue that PPC ads in that spot. The user experience for most “actual names” would be better than it is now. Of course there could be auctions and “highest bidder” approaches but that would not be as well received in the market place as a flat-fee to stake your claim. In other words, Google could do that later, after they had earned karma points and good will.

Everyone needs reputation management, and Google currently forces that problem into an SEO negotiation. Why? For a fee most would be happy to pay, Google can give them a podium from which to make their own case for reputation issues. For someone in trouble, that top spot will present their case (and outrank the perhaps exaggerated media coverage ranking on their name). For someone convicted of a crime, that spot could be used by that person to say sorry, explain some details, or otherwise provide input into what is usually a one-sided conversation at that point.For those promoting themselves… if it’s a known feature of Google, the user community would come to expect it for what it is.

Now of course Google currently gets paid on a per-click basis, and manages profitability on a profit per impression basis (using so-called “quality scores”). But at $100 flat fee, offered to 250 million Americans as an example, wouldn’t the revenue potential compete or exceed that from PPC on most names?   I didn’t do any math here… just thinking out loud.

It just seems like such an opportunity for Google to regain some public respect while serving society and making significant money, while continuing to develop search and learn more about people, identities, and how the world searches around identity.

Pseudo-Random Thoughts on Search

The web is broken. I am getting old. My way of using the web is broken. I don’t find what I need when I “use” the web, whether it is actual factual information or “something new”. Google is broken. Google doesn’t work — anymore. Google is not useful to me, except sometimes. The obvious times. The times when I need it the least… like when I know where to go but I Google anyway just because I am being lazy. I guess that means navigational searches. Google is broken, except for navigational searches, and shit I don’t need.

Google has become like Target (to me). A big store with a big marketing budget and convenient locations, selling a whole bunch of shit I don’t want or need.

When was the last time I bought anything at Target? When I had no other options. Like when I was at the vacation house, needed a flashlight, and knew there was a Target right on the main drag. Off to Target, to over-pay for a lower quality Flashlight than I would ever buy in my “real” life, and back home minutes later. I totally assumed Target would have a flashlight.. there was NO WAY they wouldn’t have had some sort of cheap enough flashlight. And they did. I didn’t need to check on that.. I could just go.

When I was back home from vacation I ordered a quality flashlight over the web, so I’d have it in my car next trip. Did I Google for it? Yeah, I did. But attention Bruce Clay: I didn’t Google the term “flashlight”.

I wasn’t in a hurry, so I started with education in mind and in an effort to turn my mundane need into something a little more interesting. I Googled things like “tactical flashlights 2012” since I find that interesting.. reading the latest opinions on tactical flashlights capable of blinding an intruder (while I shot him, I suppose), and which had strong enough sharpened metal divots on the end of it to bludgen Mr. Taliban to death (if I had to do battle with Mr. Taliban, and only had my flashlight with me, I suppose). I guess that was a Google warm on the topic of flashlights and how they fit into my life, executed in a multi-purpose way that is probably a little unique to me.

Having learned a little bit (more) about tactical flashlights, I searched for LED flashlights from specific brands I already liked, and read some reviews (mostly on Amazon). I ordered a really good one that just happened to be the one I picked out in person at the last Shooting Sports expo event I attended. Maybe that had biased my “search”. I also ordered a crappy flashlight Amazon reviewers said was “the same” as a far more expensive name brand one, and made by the same Chinese factory. That one was much cheaper than the far-inferior one I had purchased at Target (which was already long gone… the plastic front had leaked water and rotted the terminals inside, while still on vacation).

So Target was good for a cheap, throw away waste of money flashlight that solved the immediate need at a time when product satisfaction was a very low priority. Did Google similarly offer the same kind of experience?

Yes, it did. I realize now I started Googling in the info/entertainment style because my expectations for Google to actually help me locate a place to buy a flashlight were very low. I did try direct, shop-now searches, with poor results I describe below. Maybe I Google’d because I’m old and that’s how I was trained. Maybe if the browser would just let me type in “best tactical LED flashlight new in 2012 that is also adequate as a general purpose vacation flashlight” and then it would send me to reviews of tactical flashlights that regular folks (who never actually meet up with Talibans) use when on vacation, that would have been perfect. But who delivers those kinds of results?

Maybe I shouldnt have turned to Google. At less than 140 characters, “best tactical LED flashlight new in 2012 that is also adequate as a general purpose vacation flashlight?” is a valid tweet. But my twitter audience isn’t adequately skilled to deliver the answer. Neither is my Facebook “community”, lol.

I suppose I could have added a hashtag… to alert the Taliban-prepared guys who are otherwise like me, that I needed help in a way they could provide off-the-cuff at no expense to themselves, for which I would be grateful. But I’d probably need multiple hashtags. Maybe #notaliban or #killtaliban plus #flashlight or #shopping? Sadly, the twitter ecosystem is far too young and undeveloped to work properly yet. I’m still all alone with my needs.

Too bad Google’s broken. Before I went to Target I hit Google for “flashlight townname” and “LED flashlight townname” and “flashlights near townname” and “tactical gear townname” and “camping gear townname” and a whole set of other local searches intended to surface a list of stores near townname that sold flashlights (and other tactical gear etc). It was a perfect opportunity for magic to flow out from Mountain View through the Internet tubes:

“my search returned a list of local small businesses near the town I was vacationing in, which sold flashlights. The listings included the store name, a snippet describing their emphasis (camping gear, tactical gear, hardware store, etc) and star ratings from other people just like me. The listings showed the hours, whether the stores were currently open or closed, and links for driving directions. There were even reviews from real people just like me, about how they were treated as customers, how clean the stores were, and whether they actually had the items in stock when they shopped.”

But it didn’t. Even though Google pormises to deliver on all of the above with it’s local and global search results, it doesn’t. For me, Google returned a list that included a hotel web site (with a reviewer talking about having needed a flashlight to see a spider outside his window), a local National Park (which had a mention of a flashlight on it somewhere), a very outdated and useless Yahoo! directory listing for camping, a manufacturer of motorcycle parts in a nearby town (?), and a host of online shopping sites that had seo optimized subdomains on townname and product item. Google wisely put them last in the list of page 1 results (sigh).

Random thoughts… search could be so good, if only someone would make it so. I suppose if they made 10 or 20 million dollars, they could afford to hire a few good engineers and programmers and make something that really works. But instead, they get hundreds of millions (or billions even), and get so distracted by the need to get EVEN MORE that they blow it. I recall there was a company that specialized in indexing store inventories and providing a search experience that included store inventory and would have been PERFECT for me… and then it was bought by Google. Something like 3 years ago.

The web search experience sucks, and I doubt any of these “big” tech companies are going to fix that.

Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, or a Blog

Blog wins. New version coming soon, as soon as I find one that actually works for communicating with a community. After so many years, wouldn’t you think someone would have solved the “how do we have a discussion around a topic” challenge?

The BlueGlass Conference Opportunity

A few frequently-asked questions with my answers, because the Blue Glass search conference is about to open for ticket sales. They only sell dozens of them, so best be decisive and act swiftly if you want to go.

No, this is not a sponsored post, and no one asked me to write about Blue Glass. I’ve been to 3 of them myself, conference traveling on my own dime as an entrepreneur/small business owner (I’ve been completely self-employed for almost 10 years now).

Q: Is the Blue Glass conference worth the costs and travel effort? 

The Blue Glass conference is among my favorite travel opportunities related to my search work, but refreshing enough to qualify as a true break from the grind. For some reason my travel schedule is always crazy busy right up to the Blue Glass meetings, but when I check in I get a total relaxed vibe. Breaks like that are needed to stay creative in this field.

For reference the other travel opportunity I rank up there is sport fishing for tuna in Miami Florida with some friends who are more thrilled by catching big fish than telling the world how great their fishing charter is… more of that same passion for the actual work, not just the marketing of it.

Maybe some day I’ll attend Blue Glass in Tampa with an excursion down to Miami for night fishing for swordfish on Marauder out of Dinner Key/City Hall. That’d be perfect!

Q: Is BlueGlass better than Pubcon? 

Yes, hands down. I started going to Pubcon back in 2003 or 2004, and loved it. The gathering of people was unique… and the tracks were good. But the low-budget nature of Pubcon has always annoyed me, and the simultaneous tracks ruined the educational experience for me.

BlueGlass is small – a few hundred, and a single track of sessions involving something like 20 speakers/hosts per day. They run one session at a time, and everyone experiences the same knowledge transfer depending on how well they listen and pick up non-verbal cues. And that makes for great between-session conversation.Where Pubcon has like 10 simultaneous sessions and everyone splits up hoping to meet up later, at Blue Glass we are all in the same pool.

Blue Glass is interactive. You can raise your hand and ask a question. The speaker will stop… and address it. But nobody does that unless they have real value to add or real clarification is needed. Why? Because of respect. The audience is professional, and the speakers are worthy of respect (and everyone can tell).

And the non-technical aspects? I despise the box lunch deli meat sandwiches put out as “food” by Pubcon. I am always annoyed by the low-budget food service at snack times, since I try and meet people during breaks and often end up getting late to completely decimated hotel snack trays and empty/burned coffee urns (“nothing but crumbs”).

BlueGlass treats attendees like professionals. Catered food, vegetarian options that actually taste good and are sometimes inspiringly seasoned, and obvious care put into snack planning, food selections, etc. It’s a pleasure to be a guest of the BlueGlass conference.

Q: Are you going to this Blue Glass Conference? 

Not this time. I would go if it were more convenient for me, but too much on my plate right now and I was at the last one a few months ago.

Q: Is the Blue Glass conference “ADVANCED”?

Bue Glass is way more “advanced” than SMX Advanced, which is billed as “advanced” when compared to SES, SMX, and Pubcon.

The reason is that the Blue Glass people are active search people. They work every day trying to get search marketing results, and then they take a break and participate in Blue Glass conference. That is a HUGE difference from the many of the speakers at SMX and SES and Pubcon, who are really “professional speakers” and part of the sales/marketing teams of their companies, paid to visit those meetings to represent their companies and drum up business.

It’s obvious to me that the Blue Glass organizers use their conference as an interview platform: they invite the best of the best to come and speak, and that provides an opportunity for everyone to meet them, interact and explore them as professionals, not just speakers. As an attendee, I get the same access (during the 9-5 and during the 7-9 dinner/cocktails) and sometimes the 9-12 parties.

I won’t name drop here (you know who you are), but at Blue Glass I’ve met personally (and now consider friends) WordPress technical experts, market research experts, SEO strategists on my “short list of people I’d like to spend 4 hours with talking shop”, and a domainer I consider a consummate domain speculator/professional. That is in addition to people I just happen to like for their personalities and perspectives on this crazy search world we all study. Note that I don’t use the term “expert” loosely.

Q: Are there things you would chance to improve Blue Glass conference? Could it be better?

Ha ha yes, of course. I’m forever a critic, and an optimizer. But I won’t disclose my comments.

One of the things that makes any conference better than the rest is the unique individuality of the meeting, which comes from those who organize it and the response of those who attend and experience it.

If your goal as an organizer is to please everyone, you will almost certainly disappoint the 10% that seek the best they can get.

if your goal as an attendee is to experience what you expect to experience, you will surely miss the 10% of content and nuance that is the gold.. the stuff your competition missed, and which can give you an edge.

I hope the Blue Glass people keep trying hard, stay a little paranoid of their competition, and keep using Blue Glass as a way to push the boundaries of search conferences. I hope they keep exploring what may be the best of each topic area that they know from their hands-on involvement in every day search marketing is important going forward. As long as they keep doing that, it’s a steal at the reg fee price.

Where else can you tap into knowledge of what the experts believe is the next important topic, and listen to the worlds best at that topic explain it and answer questions about it? If you know other good places to get that, clue me in with an email or skype or twitter or comment below.

Google Execs Take a Break from Marissa Mayer, Lend Her to Yahoo!

There. Someone had to say it. I waited nearly a week. Doesn’t anyone have the balls to speak the obvious, or has Google’s troll-like man-handling of the search marketplace got you all tongue tied?

Google needs Yahoo! to exist and look viable, or else Google is “a monopoly”. Everyone knows Microsoft would drop out of search if there was a good reason. Without Yahoo!, Microsoft is actually keeping Google safe! How long could that be left alone?

And Marissa…. ahh, well, we can just as safely assume Larry & Co. desire a break from her, as we can assume she’ll be back at Google later if she doesn’t achieve incredible amazing success as a woman CEO at Yahoo!, or have that stint lead to the CEO position at HP or eBay or IBM or something else equally as Epic. She’s the Goo Girl… it’s who she is.

“If you love something, set it free; if it comes backs it’s yours, if it doesn’t, it never was.”

Google SEO Guidelines

Received via unsolicited email today:

“I noticed that your On-Page SEO is is missing a few factors, for one you do not use all three H tags in your post, also I notice that you are not using bold or italics properly in your SEO optimization. On-Page SEO means more now than ever since the new Google update: Panda. No longer are backlinks and simply pinging or sending out a RSS feed the key to getting Google PageRank or Alexa Rankings, You now NEED On-Page SEO. So what is good On-Page SEO?First your keyword must appear in the title.Then it must appear in the URL.You have to optimize your keyword and make sure that it has a nice keyword density of 3-5% in your article with relevant LSI (Latent Semantic Indexing). Then you should spread all H1,H2,H3 tags in your article.Your Keyword should appear in your first paragraph and in the last sentence of the page. You should have relevant usage of Bold and italics of your keyword.There should be one internal link to a page on your blog and you should have one image with an alt tag that has your keyword….wait there’s even more…”

Google has created an environment where scams like this can thrive, because web site owners don’t understand what does or doesn’t matter for SEO. Experts work hard to test, reverse-engineer and develop strategies for successful SEO, but real experts don’t write about specifics in public. Tool and service vendors write specifics in order to impress potential service clients. Scam artists write detailed guidelines like the above, which are half based in truth, but primarily designed to sell 1 year contracts while the client is still naive about SEO.
I wrote about this years ago in my Market for Lemons post.

It seems this is all about to change. What might Google do to bring this under control?

  • Require registration of SEO service providers- Google could create a “Trusted SEO” program, with service provider partners. Those looking to improve their success with Google would be encouraged to hire the Trusted SEOs, while all other SEO service providers would be monitored for compliance, with threat of penalties for clients and SEOs sans any two-way communications. We saw hints of this with the “pay to play in organic” inadvertently exposed briefly earlier in the year. Surely that was the smoke… and the fire must be burning somewhere.
  • Publish a specific list of allowed publishing tactics, with specifics of penalties, filters, and demotions. If complex enough, this would eliminate the market for legal “tricks”, and probably last a few years before truly stifling the 80%
  • Publish specific lists of “risk factors” associated with specific web sites, via Webmaster Console. Such an “SEO Score” could allow site owners to better understand and manage their risk, even when working with an SEO firm.
  • Make public a list of known SEO practitioners and their web sites / clients. This transparency would strengthen Google’s traditional one-sided control of the search marketplace, while removing much of the advantage SEO firms have over naive clients. It would also hurt serious SEO consultants working “all-in”  for certain industries. Such an exposure would restrict competition at the higher levels of SEO.
  • Publish a “Chilling Effects” style website about penalties, filters, and bans, using real-world examples, naming SEOs and SEO agencies, as well as domains.
  • Eliminate the viability of organic, non-paid listings altogether. Google could label approved organic listings as trusted, and hide true organic listings behind an option setting. Conduct a search, see only the organic listings Google prefers, which would include clients of the Trusted SEOs program. Desire more diversity? Click a link to see the rest. Using such an approach, Google could boost all known Quality metrics through the roof, reward partner agencies and clients, while still claiming to puplish algorithmic organic results sets. Not a pretty future, but possible.

Clearly Google is making big changes and we’ll have to wait to see the final specifics. These are some ideas of how it might go… to help stir discussions. What do you see in the near future from Google? How “bad” willit get for real SEOs, versus canned SEO service sellers, scam artists, and opportunity exploiters?

Reasons your Post-Penguin Link Building Sucks

Since Google got aggressive (finally) with spammy link builders and spammy article syndicators, I’m getting a lot more “offers” to write for my sites. So far nothing I would ever accept. Why not? Allow me to list just some of the primary reasons your post-Penguin link building requests suck:

1. You don’t present any unique value TO ME; it’s ALL ABOUT YOU

Your request is all about how you will write, and you will get a discreet link back to your site. Aside from the canned “I love your site” crap, there is nothing that makes me feel even remotely interested in YOUR offer.

Pretty crappy marketing. No pitch. No promises to me. No interesting value. Zero persuasion. And most of all, zero potential. I have to say, it’s like getting an offer from a street hooker while driving to work. Why would I ever engage in that sort of anonymous drive-by……? Whatever. Link whore much?

2. Your Web Site is Worse Than Mine

And I mean that in a content and seo sense, not a design sense. You’re not offering to design my site, you’re offering to write for it. So how’s your writing? How could I possibly think that what you’ll write for my site will be any better than what you’ve published on your own site? I hate to actually suggest this, but if you can’t write, hire someone. And then scam me with these offers. It’ll work better.

3. You Compete DIRECTLY with Me and My Site

This initially seems hard to believe since we are all so unique and SEO is so diverse, it happens a lot. And it is actually understandable given that YOU ARE SO LAZY. You obviously used keyword tools to find my site, and were hunting for BEST POSSIBLE MATCHES which means, naturally, you’re top prospects (according to your lazy research) are DIRECT competitors to you. Same topics, same service offerings, and even same local service area.

Why would I… or better, BECAUSE you’re obviously lazy, I know you won’t do a nice job if I allowed it.

4. You Didn’t Look At Me or My Site

Most times it is VERY CLEAR that you have no idea who I am and little awareness of my site’s perspective. Not that I’m special, but to me and my friends I am somebody. And you are not, by the way. Fix that and we might have something to discuss.

5. When you answer my reply, you show me you have no idea what I responded to

I actually replied to a few with “Maybe.. what’s the deal?” only to learn that you have no idea what you sent me originally. I will have to assume you spam so many for so many sites that you can’t keep track of unlabeled responses. Hah. Owned.

6. Your Plan Sucks

This is the biggest fail of all. What you propose (and the way you appear to execute) sucks. Your “offer” to extract value FROM my site FOR your benefit will just SPREAD your suckage to my site (and to me by association). Why would I ever…. oh never mind. You won’t get any of this.

So there you have it. Six reasons why your link building approach sucks, from my perspective.And yes, I do recognize this is very close to a Top Ten Lists for SEO post. Sorry.

Painful Example of Google’s Capricious Do Not Care Attitude

This is amazing to me, not because it is true but because it is co clearly demonstrated with recorded phone calls. Although I fully expect Google to issue excuses, blame an incompetent vendor, and allude to “beta”, “experiment”, or “brief period of impact..effecting 0.0001% of businesses” maybe this will be the living example the world needs to recognize Google’s intent. After all, through its seo management campaigns, Google taught us all that intent, not actual practice, should often be the cause of scorn and punishment.

Mike Blumenthal brought us the story of a US business that was de-listed by Google local, ostensibly because it did not pass the trust tests for being a truly local business. The reality is quite shocking (but quite clear in the audio recordings of the phone calls) – Google will trust cheap, incompetent, unverified offshore call center representatives over local small businesses.

In this case, it seems a poorly-trained, culturally insensitive and communications-challenged call center in India was given the power to de-list local businesses if they determined — without any apparent oversight — that the business did not have a local physical presence at the address on record.

I repeat – Google trusts it’s obviously low cost outsourced vendor more than it trusts established, US-based local businesses.
I fully expect the usual “it wasn’t our fault”, “it’s a new program only in beta”, and “blame the vendor” excuses from uber-arrogant Google. But the fact remains, we can clearly see Google’s intent with this activity. Google will trust an entity that has a commercial relationship with Google (even if a low-bid one, from overseas) before it trusts those whom it already arrogantly believes is “out to get them”.

Google’s paranoia and arrogance are hurting the US economy. How can this be ignored?

My advice to Google: reach out to that other money-hungry arrogant big entity known as the Chamber of Commerce, and make a deal while you can. They have an edge with small businesses, have demonstrated that they, too will bend all sorts of ways if it means cash for their pockets. You will need that public impression of an alliance with small businesses sooner than you suspect.

My advice to small businesses: start calling your Chamber of Commerce and COMPLAIN LOUDLY about Google. Today. Demand action. You have few other options, and the opportunity for you to have any impact in this conversation is going away in 5…4…3….2….

Seeing the Trees, but Missing the Forest

Happens all the time… tourists come into my temperate rain forest and admire the trees, while missing the forest. Yes, trees are cool. But not nearly as cool as the ecosystem that supports them.

Same thing with Google. SEOs see the trees, but many are missing the whole forest idea.

Riddle me this — if you have to pee while hiking on a forest trail, where should you deposit your unwanted bodily fluids? The answer might surprise you: right on the trail. Not off in the bushes (you’ll trample a lot of ecosystem doing that) and not behind a tree (the forest-floor-rises-up-to-base-of-tree region is a very important part of the system). Pee right on the trail. Why?

Note that the trail is already trampled.. it’s called a trail for a reason. Also note that forest animals (like deer) have an often desperate need for salt. They WILL find yours, and they WILL lick it up, from where ever you left it.  If that requires scratching up the forest floor because your latent Puritanism forced you to blaze a new trail into the brush just to avoid being seen executing the same basic human functions that everyone must execute every 3 hours or so, your how-to-pee-while-hiking tactics are doing more harm than good.

A naturalist will tell you that peeing on the trail “gives” the salt, water, and other ingredients to those who need it, without any additional trampling costs to the forest. Same naturalist will note that forest trails should be serene and quiet and low-traffic, so there really shouldn’t be any discretion problem. Same naturalist will also quickly note that a trail can’t support a hundred cidiots (city+idiot) per day peeing on it, and that people who don’t get nature should limit their nature walks to well established trails designed for high levels of foot traffic (typically accompanied by porta-potties or restrooms). Said naturalist may also comment on the sterile nature of healthy pee, and the unhealthy state of most Big Mac loving city slickers visiting the Great Outdoors with their air-conditioned SUVs. Said naturalist also probably hikes in the nude, but that’s another story.

In the forest, the bigger eco system will over ride your silly rules, because your rules don’t matter for survival of the system. Your rules matter TO YOU. And that’s where the damage comes from… you only see the trees, and end up destroying the forest that supported the trees.

I’m going to say most SEOs only see trees… links, articles, attention, audience – but miss the forest, which is the ecosystem of the web of connected surfers. Most SEOs are more like Google than nature. They do what they perceive is best for themselves, or the cabal they collaborate with, and harm the ecosystem in the process.

Lately, they are dooming themselves, too, because Google’s got a plan and it doesn’t include them. As they diligently pay attention to the Google Trees (do this, don’t do that) they are ignoring the bigger forest… Google’s execution of a plan to benefit Google at the expense of the natural web.

How many times have you heard “you might have to start over” in the past 6 months? Imagine that… a suggestion that, in order to be trusted and receive search traffic from Google, you might have to abandon your domain and start over on a new one.

Seriously? A traffic broker who already successfully copies and re-purposes your content while capriciously representing you in unilaterally-edited fashion, now has the cajones to tell you to abandon your one owned asset (the domain) or lose the traffic?

Think of the forest.. the bigger picture. Does Google like that you own a domain that has brand power? Does Google like that people can “find” you without searching for you in Google’s index? Does Google like that you can choose how and what to publish on your site? Does Google like that your seemingly-wanton formatting of what you publish makes it difficult if not impossible for Google to”organize” into an efficient, searchable index?

A domain name is a handle used by the market to hold on to you. Your potential (which they acknowledge, by remembering you as a brand) is invested into your domain name. Google wants that now.

The same way the middle-school bully swings by to take your lunch money, because he can and you don’t resist, Google’s taking away your forest, one tree at a time. And many, many of you so-called SEO people out there are helping Google destroy the same ecosystem that supports you.

Google doesn’t own the web. Despite Google’s stifling of innovation for the past 5 years or so, you can still innovate if you just resist the imposing, selfish rule sets that claim to be good for everyone but are actually destroying the ecosystem. You don’t have to conform, in order to succeed on the web.

As you build websites and draw audiences, you are participating in a dynamic living ecosystem. If you find yourself on the heavily-trafficked urban trail, by all means use the facilities that have been provided for you. It’s the civil thing to do, for everyone’s sake. But if you’re innovating, and like the naturalist working to understand the interconnected web and helping it thrive, sometimes the best thing to do is pee on the trail.

Search is a Task; Discovery is Fun

Oh Google how you’ve changed. As with every change, you seem to become less fun.

Those who were there using the web when Google launched, will probably remember how much fun it was to discover things with Google. The single, biggest amazement by my recollection? That I could enter any specific text string, and Google would return the exact URLs where it appeared. Wow. Indexing what seemed like the entire World Wide Web. Amazing! Check this out… (search)… and this! (search) and on and on. I had no idea those things were out there, and they were wicked cool, and I was thrilled to have discovered them. I made my day… sunnier.

When I needed to “find” something I didn’t know existed, I used my creativity – I crafted a query I suspected might return something close to what I suspected was out there… and it worked!

Google was awesome.

These days, after many years of Google becoming more and more like my ornery, overly disciplined and strict grandfather, the experience searching with Google is almost the opposite of what it was. Every query is now a battle, and nearly every result set is a disappointment. That might not be fair to say, because not every result set is inadequate. But, using Google is certainly not fun, and therein lies some disappointment. Google is no longer a discovery tool. It is much closer to a directory than ever before, and a biased, incomplete directory at that. As Gigaom said in it’s article about Pinterest and Pinterest look-a-likes, search is a task, and discovery is fun.

Search is changing, and Google is a big reason. I don’t think Pinterest is any more amazing than Google image search or Bing image search can be. Unfortunately, Google and Bing don’t do image search very well. The reason seems to be one of control — these “search engines” seem to want to control us in ways that make them money, instead of allowing us to engage with their tools in ways that make us happy.

That “seem” is a reflection of the emotion one feels when using Google or Bing image search, vs. visual discovery tools like Pinterest.  And that’s the “fail” — that is where Google and other search engines miss the market. Pinterest is so simple, and not much of an innovation. It’s done what Facebook and Google and Bing could have easily done, had they the freedom to deliver what is easy, cool, fun, interesting, etc. But those organizations instead project a sense of technical seriousness instead. They are in a battle, and we users can sense it. Overly gruff, overly concerned with things “we don’t understand”, and so overly-focused on some endpoint beyond our immediate desires that it gets in the way.

Looking for an image to inspire your blog post? What were the odds that you would hit Google image search for inspiration a year ago? Have you tried Pinterest? If you have, what are the odds today, that you’ll engage with Pinterest first, before going to Google or Bing image search? Seems like nothing but upside for Pinterest.

Sadly, engineers don’t recognize today’s “search” challenge as anything beyond social graphs, vote flags, or  races to comprehensiveness or correctness or any combination of weighting factors probabilistically certain to define “the best”. And that’s probably the biggest “fail” of all. Just as Apple knew mediocre design would fail to sell an excellent product into a crowded marketplace, Google’s technocrats fail to recognize that its customers are sloppy, messy, emotional, tired, and often anxious humans. Of course a handful of every hundred American consumers work hard and care about correctness and utility and “the right way” to do things. Everybody else? Well, let’s just say technically-correct and “safe”, boring, search isn’t very satisfying.

Search is a task, previously reserved for librarians and statisticians. Increasingly, it is returning to that status, encouraged by Google and the others. Discovery? It’s still a wide open field.

Why “dot everything” is a Good Idea (and ahead of its time)

I’m getting tired of so-called experts trashing ICANN’s decision to open up the Internet naming system on the right side of the dot, to enable names with dot anything. It was a smart thing to do, although it may have been executed poorly. It for sure has been interpreted poorly by the same people it was meant to inspire.

The Internet name system has not evolved much, despite tremendous growth of our Internet use and related Internet technologies. We still type in dot com (or whatever) and we still publsih html pages on URLs. The system of search and storage and registration of published information still relies on static URLs to represent information, and more than ever we struggle with naming. There are fewer names available yet we still must draw from our one, virtually static lexicon. Clearly the naming system needs to evolve. But how? Any ideas?

Unfortunately not. The very naming pros and creative experts that developed the web have failed miserably to recognize this opportunity for progress.  The same people whose “out of the box” thinking created what we have today, have failed to think outside of the box that is the domain name system.

Dot anything  was (is?) your chance to change the way things are done on the Internet.

Sadly, everyone just thinks it’s another way to add more tlds to be used the same old way. Can you fault the ICANN governing body for at least acknowledging they don’t have any great ideas, and enablign us to take charge and implement some of our crazy ideas?  Apparently people can and do fault ICANN for that. And it’s sad to watch.

The same idea-less domain speculators that failed to monetize valuable domain names outside of a resale market criticize the effort.  The same so-called “naming consultants” who charge consulting fees to help pick Internet names criticize the effort. The same “big brands” that fail to innovate and instead use protective tariffs and laws to guard their markets, criticize the efforts.I’m even seeing these same “losers” criticize the cost as high — starting at $185k. Sigh. Since when was $185,000 a high cost for innovation at the root domain level, in any business or industry?

So if there are so many loud and often ignorant critics, where are the disruptors who can prove me right? I suspect their quietly working hard on their ideas.

Dot anything is an opportunity to do things differently. To try something new. If you can’t imagine how that might work, get out of the way and let those who can, try.

Google Panda Recovery: SEO Secrets Revealed?

Google’s Panda update has old school and new school SEOs running for the hills. They don’t know what to do to recover from Panda. The old tricks don’t work, and often appear to be the cause of the Panda penalty. Google doesn’t care – it’s busy making money as the only search engine serving the American marketplace.

I guess we’ll never know the SEO secrets to Google Panda recovery.

Did you feel that let down? That big drop in brain chemicals after you read “I’ll guess we’ll never know…” ? That’s what you do to your readers when you write crap like this. And when you call yourself an SEO, writing crap like this, you may just tarnish your brand permanently in the minds of those who actually care about SEO as a profession.

I’m seeing SEO journalists and self-proclaimed SEO experts do this… to get traffic. Of course it works in Google… Google can’t tell real content from crap content any more. But it doesn’t care. I do. And your readers do.

Now if everybody does it, will that make it okay?

I see where you’re going. If you cabal members all do it, then it will seem normal. Social norming… that’s the technique. And then we can huddle around our Seattle propaganda hub and pretend it’s all true.. congratulate each other for fighting the hard fight, and winning as “SEOs” (or inbound marketers or whatever).

Nope, sorry guys.  Dreaming doesn’t make it so. And colluding behind the scenes doesn’t make you any better as an SEO either. You probably don’t know it, but your prospects already talk about you. They listen, and then they go away (from you) and talk (to others) about how you seem enthusiastic, willing to negotiate, willing to seemingly offer guarantees and reduced rates, and earnest to work hard to achieve results. But those prospective clients also say — you don’t come across as likely to get it done.

And nobody wants to pay for services for the sake of keeping you and your team of underlings employed.

So go ahead and keep writing. Go for broke… why not “Matt Cutts and the Secrets of the Google  Algorithm” followed by “I guess Matt will take those secrets of the Google algorithm with him to his grave…“. But know this : you look like a fool. To everyone.

Google’s SEO to the Rescue!

Google is not just a huge search engine and Internet company, but also owns an investing company Google Ventures.  Google Ventures invests in… you got it… Internet companies. How do those companies do when it comes to SEO? Come on, I know you know the answer to that!

Perhaps you start with the politically correct answer…. Google Ventures only invests in good companies, and they already know so well what they are doing they don’t need “SEO”. That perspective would fit Google’s paradigm. But it’s wrong.

Maybe you like Google but also understand that SEO is valuable (not just spammy). So maybe you said “Google probably makes sure they understand the Google guidelines, and then of course they do “SEO” but probably just-make-good-content-for-users. You’d be partially right.

Haha– some of you I am sure thought “Google probably tells them what to do, to beat the algorithm!”. Wow… conspiracy much?

Come on, seriously. Could Google really do that? I suppose if they did, they might as well go “all the way” and actually send out a team of dedicated experts to consult for the company. That way they could make sure the SEO was executed properly. Why not? SEO canbe hard to get right. And if you’re going to buy into that “Google is Evil” conspiracy stuff, why not have fun with it and create a script where Google actually helps them win?

Along those lines, here’s my super hyperbolic projection of how bad things COULD get, if Google were TRULY evil.

Google Ventures invests in a company that is run by a former SEO/SEM who used to give talks on online marketing and SEO, and then advises that company on specifics of user interface, conversion, and what we all know as “SEO”. Make that an SEO who bought a pre-existing site, and optimized it for SEO first. Oh hell why not go crazy and make it a purchased, optimized, ECOMMERCE site, commonly known as a vertical industry shopping portal.

Let’s throw caution to the wind, and pretend it was heavily curated content. Images, mostly. of course since it’s an SEO play,it’ll have SOME unique content per collection of curated images, so let’s get crazy and put that into a SIDEBAR just for fun.
Now let’s pretend Google Ventures not only helps consult on SEO issues, but even sends out experts to actually make changes to their code and design for them. In my version the former SEO guy is so happy he smiles HUGELY for the Boston Globe photographer (I imagine something like this), when they end up with what looks like an optimized, user and search engine friendly, almost-spammy website that rocks the SERPs, with a keyword density of “perfect” as defined by the Big G itself.  Hah!

It can be fun to make up funny shit like that story. I hope you enjoyed it! Hoo boy I need to sit down, I’ve been laughing so hard at the irony and cynicism in there. Wow.

Now go read this and do a little Googling of the players involved, before someone at Google pulls a Schmidt and cleans up the serps for reputation management purposes.Then, meet me inside SEOBook forums to discuss how to deal with this Google monster.

“when whales fight, the shrimp’s back is broken”

Google, Facebook, and Twitter are battling. Google is clearly the aggressor right now, unsatisfied with it’s role as “aggregator of the worlds information…. but only when the world permits it”.

Google has been pushing around web publishers and web users for the past year or so, and is now making moves to show it’s willingness to destroy the search results in order to get the social media access it wants. Presumably to make those search results better… but I’m losing faith in that. More than ever, it’s becoming clear Google is only after the money and power.

The people have spoken — they don’t like Google Plus very much. Certainly not as much as Facebook or Twitter. In fact, the people haven’t liked much of what Google has developed so far at all. Oh sure properties like YouTube and Maps are loved, but Google didn’t create those. Google Search is the only Google-developed product the masses really like and use.

And now Google is taking that away. Google just took away the meaningful, diversified SERPs that made it famous, and replaced them with junk culled from Google’s social media and other properties. I’ve already heard two people say “I hate the new Google. I can’t find anything I want”.

This is a very dangerous game for Google to play. Not sure what’s going on in that Google complex. Is it desperate?

Google did this with local last year… and that is still a mess. Google Place Pages replaced yellow pages and various other listing and directory sources. My own personal experience with Google local today? When I use Google Maps linked to Google Places and local reviews, it is wrong more than it is right. Much more. Businesses that moved a year ago, still shown at the old address. Restaurants that changed name many years ago still ranking for the old name. Lots and lots of “the wrong things” returned.

Just yesterday I finished playing tennis in Seattle, and hit maps for “tennis store” because I blame my raquet for everything. Google was useless for local commerce. I tried “tennis raquets” — also useless. What a waste of time relying on Google local! I was ready to spend up to $150 for a tennis raquet *if* I could hold it in my hand and ask about grip size and get it stringed while I waited.

My disappointment with Google for local is based in my expectations… that’s the scary part. Those searches use to work! Google used to return useful answers for searches like that!

An old Korean saying translates to “when whales fight, the shrimp’s back is broken”. That’s what we have here… Google’s gotten super greedy, innovators like Twitter and even Facebook are resisting the Borg, and Google’s getting mad and taking it’s ball home.

Grow up, Google. There’s a long road ahead and you have plenty going for you. Make search work. We’ll love you for it.

Transparency in the Land of Opportunity

Aaron posted a great review of transparency in SEO over at SEO Book. You should read it. He goes into detail on how the marketplace seems to attach value to claims of transparency and “open” ness, even though those credits are largely misplaced. He reviews how Google abuses that to its advantage in numerous ways. I consider the Internet to be the “Land of Opportunity” since we all have so many ways we could apply our web efforts.

Transparency and Openness in SEO and Beyond

In reading the review I found myself nodding in agreement on point after point. It also reminded me of SEOMOZ, which Aaron didn’t mention by name, but which is probably the most vocal self-proclaimer in the SEO space when it comes to claims of being “open” and “transparent”. I consider them big abusers of that… “open” tools that are actually marketed via the freemium strategy, use of “dot org” domain for a clearly commercial enterprise, default “opt out” web crawler that leverages the good will of publishers to feed the commercial tools (and requires reciprocal brand promotion in order to “opt out” after the fact). I think seomoz would have been a great candidate for a case study on exploitation of “open” and “transparency”, if Aaron had needed another one.

Aarons article also prompted me to comment here about another form of “transparency” that relates to web marketing — validity of marketing claims and the inferred claims buried in testimonials.

Time and again these days we see slick tool vendors launch into the social media space with great websites and promising feature sets, accompanied by claims of value, uniqueness, efficacy, and general awesomeness. These claims are backed by testimonials from major voices. VERY OFTEN those testimonials from “major voices” appear to me to be very carefully worded. They don’t actually make any factual statements. They read like horoscopes.. snippets that sound GREAT the first time you read them, but upon analysis you can see they could apply to anyone (not just you). Here’s an example:

I have yet to see a platform on the market that can do all the things that Chirpaloo does. It is powerful!

Now it might seem I just questioned the integrity of “Patrick Mueller, Managing Director, Smly.com”. I don’t mean to… it’s just and example of a testimonial that COULD come from someone who actually uses or used the tool, or… from someone who looked at the claims and said “wow… [if it does all that] it’s way cool”.

It may also seem I am questioning the integrity of Chirpaloo, the oddly named twitter tool that published that on its home page, as its most prominent testimonial. Nope.. at least not intentionally. But I am pointing out an apparent problem with their marketing.

Chirpaloo.. a tool that claims to be awesome, but doesn’t publish a price. A tool that offers a demo video but doesn’t let you watch it. They require a sign up form (for contact information) in order to “schedule a demo”. These are not trust-instilling facts about the Chirpaloo web site. So, lacking trust factors, I must look more closely at what is offered.. the testimonials, and the specificity of the marketing claims.

Here’s another of the home page testimonials:

“We began using Chirpaloo at its earliest stages and found it an invaluable tool for our attendee marketing efforts for Pivot Conference. With the next iteration of the platform, we believe Chirpaloo will become even more valuable for us in 2012 and beyond.” Mike Edelhart, CEO, PivotCon

See? It reads like he used it during beta or alpha (not likely to have paid for it), for a specific event, and hasn’t used it since. His “testimonial” is little more than assurance that they do have something under development, and that he believes they will (eventually) have something at least more useful than it was when he checked it out.

Is that really a great testimonial? On SECOND read, does it instill confidence? One of the four best testimonials they could locate? (they selected 4 for their home page).

Pivot Conference is a branding/social media conference, so naturally the very existence of a twitter tool is relevant to them out of the gate. I’ll stop analyzing Chirpaloo here, because I’m not gaining any confidence as I look deeper (which is why I started looking… I didn’t see satisfactory trust signals). There is no shortage of incomplete, erroneous, badly-designed websites on the Internet.

And that’s the tie in to transparency and openness. If your product is amazing, let the amazingness do your marketing. If people are using it effectively, your marketing work should involve opening up access to that knowledge, not creating new content to help express that fact that you’re amazing, or get people to schedule a relatively expensive (time and attention wise) phone conference. That’s the beauty of the Facebook “like”… Facebook doesn’t promote your brand, your satisfied customers do. Facebook is enabling for that communication to reach everyone else.

Transparency in SEO World

SEO is a strange field where transparency will hurt your ability to earn a living. In SEO, there are real issues that create real challenges to openness and transparency. Aaron notes that, when he highlights how SEO firms promoting themselves as “open” and “transparent” can’t possibly be sincere, because openness and transparency in SEO destroys SEO value. But that’s not the case for twitter tools, and most “normal” Internet industries. Most industries do not have the worlds most powerful Internet company (Google) highlighting them as the biggest danger to their business profitability (something Google did in its pre-IPO paperwork – it warned investors that SEO could kill Google).

So it seems to me, openness and transparency are important. If your product is expensive, don’t hide that fact. If you hide the price and it turns out to be expensive, I have to assume you yourself have very little confidence that the market will recognize the value. THAT awareness should drive your marketing, not cause you to hide your pricing. If your success depends on people overlooking or not noticing that your service is not a very good value, you very likely have a big problem.

If your product has a lot of bugs, help everyone see the benefits of using the parts that work well. That’s all we’re looking for any way… we don’t actually want to buy your promises. We want to buy what works. If you sell us promises, we will be disappointed and it will be your [your brand’s] fault. If you sell us something that is awesome for task “A” and we discover it is indeed awesome for task “A”, but is terrible at task “B”, we can honestly evaluate it on its merits. We won’t feel cheated if we make the purchase knowing we’re buying an awesome Task “A” tool that also tries to do Task “B”.

Open. Transparent.

Exploitation of Transparent and Open Claims

On the other hand, there is one very legitimate business case when it’s SMART to hide the price, promote the promises over the facts, and present great SOUNDING testimonials from BIGVOICES instead of trust inspiring testimonials from actual experienced customers. Exploitation. Raise money, sell a product that might not be ready yet, or sell a promising product into a high-demand marketplace where there is a lot of need, not yet a lot of awareness, etc. Use “open” and “transparent” to exploit the market buyers.

Not the same as Aaron’s notes on Google, but in between my own observations about SEOmoz and perhaps the most slimy segments of the affiliate marketing world, where blatant lies and often completely fake testimonials are purposefully used to generate fake buzz and raise money from high-pressure sales.

Testimonials look like transparency, but should be real not crafted. Good ones should instill trust. Otherwise it looks like fake transparency, which is a red flag for trust. Marketing claims should be specific and demonstrable, so they empower the consumer to make a deal (buy your offering). If you can’t do that, sell what you have, not what the market wants. To do otherwise is doomed to disappoint customers, which is brand failure at best, and fraud at worst.

Credit Card Re-Billing Interview Test

One of my interview tests when dealing with affiliate marketers or people who were at some point active in strategic alliances and online marketing, involves credit card re-billing. I find a way around to discussing the amazing effectiveness of credit card re-billing, including float and slippage. Re-billing is the system of “sign up now and we’ll bill you monthly, until you cancel”. Float is the free money you make from their money, which is in your account before they use any of your services (or cost you any expenses). Slippage is the free money that you get when they paid, but didn’t consume.

The obvious part of the discussion should be, well, obvious to all participating. Free money is the most profitable revenue. I get some value from watching how a potential partner represents the credit card subscription/re-billing opportunity and their experiences with it. Not every one of them is a thief.

The not-so-obvious parts will hopefully come up in the conversation (if the candidate is at least trustworthy). That’s the connection between costs, charges, optimization of float and slippage, and management of customer accounts. It’s real work to run any business, and real work to run a very profitable business.

The nuanced parts are rarely brought up by potential candidates, but when they are, I have a candidate. Why is the re-bill so successful? Because of trust, risk, and power. The sign up is based on potential (which involves trust, as I showed earlier). Trust is also closely tied to risk. Power, which is tied to risk, belongs to me (the consumer). Take away my power, and I have risk, so I re-evaluate my trust in you.

I own my power and I own responsibility for risk. I own the responsibility for the transaction (the deal). The ONLY thing you own is the potential and the deliverable that you promised, and which I decided was the basis for the bargain. Leave me to mine, and take care of yours — then we can do business.

Re-billing? If you are trustworthy and enable me to retain my powers as a consumer, I may invest in you based on your potential to deliver, even if I know I am giving you “free money” month after month via the re-billing mechanism. It’s a deal I make, not a deal your sales guy closed, or a trick your re-bill scam pulled on me.
Open and transparent can only apply to your part — the promise and the deliverable. When you are using it for my parts (the risk, the trust, the close), you are very likely exploiting the consumer, and nothing more benevolent than that.

Robotic Work Force

Today I visited the local bank to get some Canadian currency in advance of my next trip over the border. It’s much better to have Canadian currency while in Canada: it’s easier and cheaper than credit cards.

I am sick and tired of the “system” nickel and dime-ing me to death every time I’m up north.  Every hockey game, lacrosse game, etc. takes me over the border, and I find myself taking out cash from an ATM for coffee, snacks, admission fees, raffle tickets. I end up paying a Canadian bank ATM fee, an American bank ATM fee, and a currency conversion fee, every time.

Our Canadian neighbors don’t like American Express. Small businesses don’t take it at all, and only American-based or multi-national corporate stores take it. Starbucks will take it, but can’t do so at the regular register (a manager type has to swipe it behind the counter somewhere). Ditto for VISA. For some reason, the lower British Columbia mainland doesn’t take VISA. They like MasterCard. Stop for Tim Horton’s coffee or donuts? You’ll need cash or a Mastercard. No VISA, no Amex, and no American dollars.

Of course I don’t have a Mastercard. Every one of my cards is a VISA.I’m not at all sure why.

My local bank branch is “the one closest to the border” in Washington state. At a branch in Seattle, I was unable to buy any Canadian currency at all. I was told all about how this local branch up here actually stocks Canadian currency as a service to customers, and I was urged to stop by and buy some, before heading north. The guy was excited telling me about it, like it was a banking feature or something cool. Imagine… in a state that borders Canada, in the city that is closest to the border, our nation’s second largest bank (or something like that) actually has Canadian currency available for it’s cusrtomers to buy.

So I stopped by, and they were out.

I honestly wonder: we border Canada, and these nations passed a “North America Free Trade” agreement,  so why is it so hard to change money? We are FLOODED with Canadians every weekend. They fill our parking lots, and buy out our Wal Marts and Costco buying clubs. For some reason they have no trouble coming down here and spending. It’s obviously a good deal for them. So why all the hassles doing business the other way?

Any this story is really about robotic workers, not my gripes about border policies.  I went back to the bank branch today, because they were supposed to have some Canadian currency “in stock”. I asked to change $400 into Canadian colored money. Mind you I’ve been a bank customer for like 15 years, and have a tad bit more than like a trillion times that much money in the bank’s accounts, at any given time. It’s not like they don’t know me.

“I’ll have to create a profile for you, and then we can make a trade on the exchange”, he told me.

What? A profile? Trade? Exchange? Puhleeeeeze…. I’m a bank customer at the teller window, asking for currency, after having been told they did indeed have some.

“Not sure what that means”, I said,”I’ve been a pretty good customer of this branch for a long time, so you should have a pretty solid profile of me. How about you use my account as a profile and we move forward? Oh, and what will all this trading stuff cost me?”

He told me it won’t cost me anything. Cool. That is SO RARE.

So while I dreamed of the fresh Vancouver sushi I’d be buying (with cash) later, I didn’t listen to him as he explained some details about profiles and  stuff, as if it was important and official. Eventually I heard him ask me to swipe my card, which I did. He mumbled some more as he did some stuff.. explained some more about trading exchanges, buying currency, etc. It seemed very important to him, and important that he tell me, and I understand it all. Whatever Dude… just change my money.

As I almost ran out of patience waiting, when he stopped suddenly, looking at his terminal. It was like he was ACCESS DENIED or something. I imagined an FBI warning must have popped onto his terminal, with my face on it. He seemed so serious. “How. Much. Canadian. Money. Would. You. Like.”, he asked sternly.

Now I had already placed $400 in front of him, and had initially asked him to change that into Canadian magic rainbow paper (using less colorful bank terminology, of course). “I’d like to change this”, I re-iterated, pointing to the money.

Then he robotically pushed my 4 crisp $100 bills back towards me, and started to explain to me that the system requires him to state how much Canadian money the customer would like, in whole dollars only. The system doesn’t allow him to buy less than a dollar (no coins). The system doesn’t allow him to enter $400 American dollars. The customer must state how much Canadian currency they would like, to the nearest whole CANADIAN dollar, so that he can buy it for them, on the currency exchange. His “them”, in this case, appeared to be me.

Hmm…. this is odd. At that point I wanted to go all Jed Clampett on his ass, but I stayed civil.

“Okay”, I started. “I have an idea. How about you figure out how much Canadian money I can buy with $400 AMERICAN dollars, using that fancy computer you have there, and that advanced currency trading system you just created a profile for, and then we’ll buy THAT much, using this $400 of American money right here?”. I slid the $400 back towards him, nice and gentle-like, being careful not to make any false moves. I knew the cameras were watching.

At first I thought “hey, he liked that idea” because he quickly came back with a suggestion that I can buy $400 Canadian for something like $398.37 (something.. I forget).I was about to say “bravo.. you did it!” when it dawned on me that this braniac, out of frustration, had probably just typed in $400 into the Canadian box to “see what would happen” and he lucked out. Based on today’s exchange rates, I could buy that for less than the $400 I had tendered.

So much for clever or even basically competent. Forget about the fact that I could have bought like $401 or $402 or something, had he bothered to do a wee bit of currency conversion math. It’s not like he’s expected to be able to do math or anything. He’s just a banker, after all.

A robot worker at a bank. No brains required. Push everything back at the customer, with no thought to what it might mean for the customer.

All that crap about creating a profile did nothing but show me he was not competent, and that the bank didn’t care about me. The talk about exchanges and buying and trading… whatever dude. It means NOTHING to the customer. Whatever happens in the split seconds behind your terminal is inconsequential. Whatever comes out.. that’s what I would get. The only thing the customer needs is customer service, which should be HIM creating whatever profiles HE needs,  and HIM buying whatever HE needs to buy, with my money, so I can get my $400 changed into Canadian foil.

His attitude was a bonus. If it were up tome, the guy would be fired today. And tomorrow, some other less cognitively challenged “banker” would run the customer event this way:

Imaginary Banker: “Good afternoon. How can I help today?”

Me: “Good afternoon. I need some Canadian coin. Funny colored money. Four hundred smackers worth. Can you do it?”

Imaginary Banker: “I can buy you some, it’ll just take a sec. Swipe your card for me if you don’t mind”

Me: “Soytenly” (swipe)

Pause..clickclickclick…whirr… banking stuff happening. I feel important,  like Jed Clampett. I have money, the bank’s working for me, I’m gonna get some colored foil-filled Canadian paper, and sushi!

Imaginary Banker: “Looks like I can get you $400 Canadian for $398.37, or I could spend a few more minutes trying to get you even closer to your $400 spend, if you like.”

Me: “No worries, thanks.. that’d be great.  Plenty close enough for me.”

Imaginary Banker: “Done. Here you are… (count count count). Anything else I can do you for today?”

Now THAT is banking…doing the currency thing so the customer can move forward with his plans. But today, in our world of messed up, broken banking systems, disconnected bank executives, loser bank robots and completely failed econo-politics,  we have robotic workers in stupid bank branches, NOT getting the job done for customers and NOT EVEN AWARE that the job could be done well.

Rant over. The sushi was not only good and fresh, but cheap and easy, and I was treated like a local.

for the impatient

from http://www.brysonmeunier.com/does-google-have-a-brand-bias/comment-page-1/#comment-153241

john andrews says:
Your comment is awaiting moderation.
November 23, 2011 at 12:55 pm
Thanks for the thoughtful blog post. I completely appreciate it. I wish more people would do such work, and help establish their personal brands

I suspect however you may have a bias. A “blindness” created by your white hat work for big brands. The most pressing issues for you (as an SEO) in that environment are not the same “most pressing issues” for independent SEOs.

When you boil it down to a profession, SEO is about strategy and execution. You admit yourself, that your “organization” lacks those very things… you push hard to get them to accept and engage in strategic thinking, and you push hard to get them to execute. But those are things they don’t do well. At least not natively, and often even with your best efforts.

And then you suggest the system (web marketing) is unfair (biased away from those entities you work with) and use that as a leverage point to counter Aaron’s representation of the Google brand bias.

I suggest you step away from the work environment with all of its pressures and priorities, and spend a solid month on an independent SEO project (perhaps an affiliate deal with one of those brands?). I think you’ll change your tune, but I also think you’ll come out a better SEO (even though I have no bearing on how good your SEO is… not intending to judge you here).

The web was not “created” for brands. It creates brands, but I think that’s a side effect. It’s a communications tool. If your organizational teams adopt it as a communications medium, instead of a marketing channel, they might realize that:

1. their current methods of marketing to the Internet are sub-optimal
2. their operational organizational structure is sub-optimal (for that work)
3. their expectations are not optimally aligned with the way the Internet is being used by the people (business or consumer)
4. You personally are worth a lot more than they are currently paying you

Thanks again for the conversation. I hope it continues, because it adds value for all of us. And please don’t take anything I said too personally… I don’t work inside big organizations, so I am not all that sensitive to the way people like you (people who navigate group meetings and internal politics) hear the sort of direct-speak I’m used to using with my independent SEO colleagues.

john andrews
independent full time web strategist and SEO consultant
SEO since 1997, full time since 2003

I bought a Mac; Still no Good Designs

I bought an expensive new Macbook Pro. I’ve been clicking on it for two days now. Still no good designs coming out of it.

At what point do I give up and take it in for repair?

Professional SEO for Professional Photographers

The phone call went something like this….

Professional Photographer: I need SEO for my website. I made it myself, but my friend is a web designer and he helped me. It’s great. Everyone loves it. Now I need SEO.

Professional SEO/Web Guy: After looking at your site and your analytics, I can tell you you need a new web site. Whatever you spend on SEO for that site will be wasted. It’s not ready to compete in your markets.

Professional Photographer: Seriously? I disagree. I just need SEO, so more people see it. Can you get me links?

Professional SEO/Web Guy: Seriously. You are already in your market, and your local data is known to search engines. Your site, however, is not working for you.

It may be working for your customers ONCE THEY KNOW ABOUT IT, but it’s not getting you in front of new customers. You need an SEO strategy. The first step any decent SEO will tell you, after seeing your current site, is that you need a new or better web site.

Links can help, but the cost of good links that last will be higher than  the cost of a new website, after about 6 months. Can’t your web designer friend  re-do your site with some SEO guidance?

Professional Photographer: Umm.. no, we’re not really friends any more. He’s busy on other stuff. So let me do SEO now and six months later, when I have tons of customers (from the SEO), I’ll spend some money on a new website.

Professional SEO/Web Guy: Good luck. I hope it works out for you.

Professional Photographer: Huh? Can’t you do it?

Professional SEO/Web Guy: Sorry. I can’t do magic without magic wands and special potions, like good web sites and pages. And they cost money to create.

Professional Photographer: Seriously dude, I just need links.

Professional SEO/Web Guy: Awesome. Good luck then.

Professional Photographer: Hey.. ok. Listen. I hired this SEO guy 3 months ago and spend a ton of money, but it didn’t really work. So I do all my own SEO now. I’m pretty good at it, actually. I spend like 2 hours a day on my meta tags and blog, and I’m like 80% of the way to complete SEO. Now I need a real SEO for the last 20%. That’s why I called you.

Professional SEO/Web Guy: Sorry, I have to go do some work.

But… if you want to chat some  more, let’s cut to the chase. Who did you hire, what did you spend (in total) and why do you say it didn’t work?

Answer that, tell me the target search query you want to rank #1 for, and tell me what you expect to spend for the next 6 months.

Do that, and I’ll stay on the line, and give you some advice.

Professional Photographer: Okay. I want to rank #1 for “professional photographer”. I hired (nobody known) and paid $900 over 3 months. I saw no traffic at all. Not a single customer. The guy stopped answering my calls after the 3rd week, for no reason at all.

I would be willing to spend that again, and maybe even a little more, if I knew I would get results. I don’t need to get to #1, but at least top 3 in Google for “professional photographer”.

Professional SEO/Web Guy: Seriously?

Professional Photographer: Seriously. I WILL pay that much. And I’ll give it to YOU if you can deliver. I’ll even pay up front after the first month, I see results.

Professional SEO/Web Guy: Okay, I understand now. So let me explain something to you.

First, SEO is optimization. It is competitive web publishing. If you have a website already, we have to be able to optimize it. Yours cannot be optimized for less than about 40 hours of work, which is at least 3-4 thousand dollars if you have someone willing to do the work. Even then, it’s not enough content nor the right content. You’ll need a lot more.

Second, your website sucks. It has technical errors, and is built on a system that needs alot of work if we are going to even try to optimize it. It was a big mistake to invest time loading your photos and writing meta tags on that system. That work will all have to be re-done. If we did work with your current site, the more we promote the site, the more problems you’ll have with it. It won’t survive even minor levels of success.

Third, if you’re really a professional photographer, why are you spending 2 hours a day on meta tags? What are your professional goals? If you prefer coding websites to taking photographs, you’re not a professional photographer, and don’t belong in the search results for “professional photographer”. If you like SEO and want to be an SEO for photographers, that’s awesome. But don’t call me asking to SEO your photography website in a secret effort to learn enough photography SEO to sell into that market.

Failed Professional Photographer now Trying to be an SEO: Actually, I’m doing really well as an SEO already. I rank #1 for some mega money terms, like “underwater photos [obscure place name]” and “nikon sb700 flash exposure setting”, which has over 650 THOUSAND competitors in Google. And that with only those 2 hours a day on SEO. Now I’m going full-time into SEO, and just need a handful of new clients to make it possible. Right now I just need links, and if you don’t do that then fine. I’ll call someone else.

Me: Great. And congratulations! That’s WAY better results than I ever expected. You know how SEO is.. everyone says they can do it. You clearly have a gift. Which reminds me…

I get a lot of calls from people looking for SEO like this, and a lot of them are people JUST LIKE YOU. They need a good SEO, with experience ranking in photography. It sure sounds like you’re up tot the task. Can I refer them to you?

It would help me a lot, since those calls are difficult. I’d love to send them direct to you, if you have the bandwidth to take on new customers.

Failed Professional Photographer now Trying to be an SEO: Seriously? Dude thanks, that’d be awesome. And I am totally up to the task. Like I said, I’m rocking the SERPs and if I can get the link building started I’m totally in the game. Thanks a lot. And if I get good customers out of it, I’ll definitely share something back with you, for the referral. Seriously. I’m very generous that way, for people who can deliver.

Me: Great. So give me your name, mailing address, and the website I can give to people so they can read about your SEO services.

Loser: “Okay….”

20% of Searches on Google are new… another SEO Myth?

I got a marketing email from Hubspot today, with a headline about detecting “bad seo”. It then made an argument based on the “fact” that 20% of the queries on Google’s search engine have never been searched before. That was enough for me to recognize Hubspot as a “bad seo” vendor.

The 20% number is pure Google propaganda. “Good” SEOs aren’t so easily led astray.

I assume that at the time Google announced that “20%” statistic, it was good for Google for frame the issue that way. Tomorrow, when Google wants to give an alternative impression (for whatever reason), it will be easy to re-position that data. SEO people need to be smarter than that. Don’t believe everything Google says. Better yet, “critical thinking” is essential for SEO.

Maybe today I search “shoe repair Fort Lauderdale, Florida” looking for a shop to resole my awesome c. 1981 biker boots. That’s a new query and is counted.

Next I search “shoe repair Fort Lauderdale Florida” and, technically, that query has never been searched before. Merely a comma different, yet “not the same”. If I’m looking for a large number for my “there are a lot of new queries every day”propaganda, I increment the count.

Maybe someone searches “shoe repair Ft Lauderdale Florida”.. another “brand new, never before searched phrase”. And then how about “shoe repair Ft. Lauderdale Florida”, with the extra period? The count continues to rise.

We can see how very quickly we get way up there in numbers….especially when we are reporting percentages:

“shoe repair Fort Lauderdale Florida”
“shoe repair Fort Lauderdale, Florida”
“shoe repair Fort Lauderdale Fl”
“shoe repair Fort Lauderdale Fl.”
“shoe repair Fort Lauderdale, Fl.”
“shoe repair Fort Lauderdale, Fl”
“shoe repair Ft Lauderdale Florida”
“shoe repair Ft Lauderdale, Florida”
“shoe repair Ft Lauderdale Fl”
“shoe repair Ft Lauderdale Fl.”
“shoe repair Ft Lauderdale, Fl.”
“shoe repair Ft Lauderdale, Fl”
“shoe repair Ft. Lauderdale Florida”
“shoe repair Ft. Lauderdale, Florida”
“shoe repair Ft. Lauderdale Fl”
“shoe repair Ft. Lauderdale Fl.”
“shoe repair Ft. Lauderdale, Fl.”
“shoe repair Ft. Lauderdale, Fl”

Suddenly 20% is not a very surprising figure. There are many, many more variations but I stopped documenting permutations above because quite frankly, the way Google has been over-reacting to market dynamics lately, I’m afraid my site will be banned for spamming the local shoe repair SERPs for Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.

Is it really remarkable that 20% of searches on Google have never been searched before? I honestly don’t know, because Google only released that junk statement and no good supporting data about how it was obtained. Junk science, or junk SEO, in this case. Meaningless as best, and distracting at worst.

If you start your SEO newsletter with some assertions based on such “facts”, I think you lose credibility as an SEO.

Critical thinking, folks. Think of it as a necessary tool for survival in web marketing and SEO.

I believe….Google Cooks the Search Results

So with this week’s congressional hearing we’re learning that Google doesn’t believe it “cooks the books”. It is sort of interesting to watch pigs question the biggest pig about things like greed and influence.Too bad they are posturing so much they can’t address the real problems.
The real story is in the influence Google exerts over the world, much like the influence newspaper publishers exerted over the world throughout history.

On a related note, sort of funny how Google seems to think this leadership training video is bullsh*t.

Google BS

Another Deleted Blog Post – Why blog on SEO?

Just wrote and deleted another 800 or so word blog post on SEO. I was compelled to write it, because I know that what I was reading on SEO on the Internet was incorrect, but no one seemed to notice. Writing it helped clarify the thoughts, and align them with potential execution steps that were fuzzy during the idea stage. As I wrote, I supported my assertions with rationale culled from my personal experience as an SEO, today, succeeding with Google optimization. I’m very busy, having fun, and working very hard. SEO works, but it’s not what a lot of people think it is. It’s not magic, but it’s also not a mystery.
When my post was good enough to publish, and just needed a read-through and some final editing, I deleted it. The bottom line is, why publish on SEO? If you have a good answer to that question, feel free to post a comment.

Is Google Cheating? Is Google Censoring News?

I don’t know, but I figured I’d ask.

Internet entrepreneur Aaron Wall highlighted a report that last month Google implemented a behind-the-scenes deal to promote associated publishers over everyone else:

The big publishers complained that smaller sites were stealing their stories. Google made secret arrangements with the Online Publishers Association & now the big companies get to rank at the top of the search results for stories that they stole from smaller outlets.

He links to this report on the Google negotiations:

“A private understanding was reached between the OPA and Google,” an office assistant with e-mail evidence told Politically Illustrated. “The organization is responsible for coordinating legal and legislative matters that impact our members, and one of the issues was applying pressure to Google to get them to adjust their search algorithm to favor our members.”

Google has in the past communicated its honorable position on proper attribution and fairness of the algorithm via Matt Cutts and the Web Quality Team. As the web grew, Google assured us it had out best interests at heart, and we should trust it.

As comment spammers interfered with blogging, Google promised us a new “no follow” tag that would help preserve blogging as a publishing method, and Matt Cutts assured us Google would not flow ranking energy if we “nofollowed”. As big brands exploited their domain authority, Matt Cutts highlighted “mom and pop” web sites over and over, showing how Google would find and properly index and rank sites publishing original content. Matt introduced us to another innovation, the “rel canonical tag”, and showed how it should be used to make sure Google knew originals from copies.

Google claims to be fair and objective, and Matt Cutts validates those claims for us with examples and assurances.
Now there are numerous examples on the web of “big brand” sites outranking smaller sites, even for content which was originally published by the smaller sites. In my own experience, I’ve seen smaller sites syndicate their content to larger sites only to get outranked by those larger sites, for their own content. In some cases, the original appears to have been dropped from the index altogether.
Is this Google cheating? Has Google decided to throw smaller publishers under the bus, since it is easier and perhaps safer to rank larger news sites republishing the mom & pop content? When a small site works hard to break a news story, only to have it republished by a well known news site, Google used to promise it could figure out which was the original. “trust us” to “sort it out”, they said. That seems to have changed.

It appears Google is cheating, taking the easy way out, and effectively imposing censorship via the no-longer-objective search algorithm.

Google Update: Just Make Good Panda Content

Some time ago there was a major shift in search engine optimization. SEO Practitioners moved from technical tactics to either PPC or content tactics. The reason? The technical tactics had been attacked by Google. Prior to the shift, technical SEO tactics held the following characteristics:

  • they were easy to understand, if you knew what they were
  • they were easy to implement, and scalable
  • they were “money”, i.e. they led to earnings proportional to traffic or scale
  • they were “not ugly” i.e. you could publish tactical SEO pages without being too embarrassed

Under Google’s algorithmic attacks, these tactical seo methods assumed a different set of characteristics:

  • everyone talked about them as “spammy” and deserving of punishment so they took on a new spam luster (came to look ugly)
  • now everyone knew what they were
  • they were unprofitable unless massively and quickly scaled

For those who didn’t become professional speakers or conference planners and stayed in SEO practice, we saw a split into two camps: content vs. links. One new promotional face of SEO was “content” and especially “just make good content”. We saw everything from deep, rich content development to content “silos” to “content farms”.

For the rest, links were “everything”. Any content could rank if it had the right links or the right number of links. Remember those days? Links were king. And content was king… and I called BS. From my perspective, strategy was king, not content and not links. How did I know? Because I built sites without links, and I built sites without (much) content, and I ranked them all when they were on-target with the apparent content strategy rewarded in Google’s SERPs.

In competitive spaces you still needed links, and you still needed content, but not to earn relevance. You needed those to overcome competitors.

That is a simple but often overlooked concept – that earning rank and competing are different things. You had to earn relevance, but earned relevance did not give you top rankings unless you also overcame your competitors (who were in your way, because they had similar earned relevance or had supplemented whatever relevance they did have with additional links and sometimes semantically important content). Inefficient publishing could not cost-effectively compete. (As a side note, I think that’s why a lot of SEO practitioners became SEO tool vendors).

For years since SEO has been a strategy game — pick your opportunities, earn adequate relevance, and then overcome competition (with links/aligned content). If you work smart and hard, you can simultaneously influence the semantics of the search results when that appears to be possible.

Now things have changed again. Google has released The Panda, an aggressive algorithmic update that seems to throw away low quality web pages while keeping pages that make more sense. Google appears to be using the stick on sites that hosted alot of sub-threshold pages. At least it looks that way most of the time. But not always.

And as always, the exceptions provide the clues.

Right now webmasters are discussing the Panda update at length. I’m not drawing favors from any conference organizers so I don’t need to link out to discussions from here. You can find them if you look in your favorite community.

User signals are highly suspect… bounce rates, social media activity, and page consumption activity data such as comes from Google knowing more about you than your mother does. It’s all on the table. Great conversations. It’s almost a return to evidence-based SEO, where people actually tested things and studied. We will definitely learn alot from Panda. The links guy says it’s not about links. The content guys.. well, let’s look a wee bit closer at that group. They’re not being so public. A clue, perhaps? Buried in noise?

I’ll put this out there…. study the sites that are ranking and are obviously junk. That’s where you’ll find the clues. But hurry up, because the spam team is hard at work adjusting the algo to get those pages out of view as soon as they are known.

To say it another way, study hard the sites and Panda update, where Google updates influence search results and rankings improve optimal results and conversions. Don’t be fooled… it’s a smart algorithm, but not that smart.

And if you find yourself awash in the Panda update clues – words not the matter of course, nor might Panda order or sequential keyword stats. Behold! For optimal optimized rankings we listen to the careful and adapt around Google’s Panda… right around this point everyone knows not to continue reading. But up to here? Crap shoot. Look at what is ranking today. You’ll see it. Optimized garbage beating The Panda, mixed in with super-inefficient just-make-good-content publishing.

How to Win Against Panda: As always “just make good content” will win the battle but lose the war. Publishing special, rich, meaningful content will keep you in the index, but it’s a horribly inefficient way to compete as a publisher. Ditto for links. Building alot of quality links throws you into a competition for more, if there are other content survivors. While Google rewards you with traffic it steals the value away one dime at a time. Competing with high quality content demands placing faith in Google to be more benevolent than it has been in recent history.

The bottom line is, Google just doesn’t value your content, and doesn’t care very much. I believe Google will continue to destroy content economies, forcing a race to the bottom for writers and artists. Someday producers will wake up and demand more, but I don’t expect it any time soon.

By the way that may explain the lack of public observations from the content group. That group is comprised of the inefficient “just make good content” publishers (who wouldn’t know a Panda from a Drop Bear), the social guys fully engaged in the race to the bottom (with 60+ new articles a day), and the auto-gen guys who continue to spend on technology that scales rapidly and delivers “money in a hurry” even as the opportunities get narrower and narrower. One of those is losing the war to inefficiency. One is winning the war, but at slave wages, probably looking for an alternative exit. One is winning like a warlord, one profitable battle at a time, with little interest in winning the war, while hoping it will just keep going. Aaron calls that a black hat seo.

Is there a winning strategy post-Panda? Sure there is.. defined on a market basis, one niche at a time. Publishers still exert influence, and can still define audiences. But again, they won’t succeed if they continue to let Google define the audience or manage it. Is that in your strategy? Defining and serving the specific audiences you serve with your products and services? Forever, Google has been keen on the pigeon hole.

If you got this far congratulations. There’s no prize though. Because it’s not about Panda, it’s about Google. If in your business it’s all about Panda, take that as a sign your were in the business of optimizing Google, and the threshold just shifted, as it will do every X months going forward. That’s the game — celebrate it. Make sure the risk management is built into your business model. Nothing new there… warnings on that front have been circulating since before 2003.

If you didn’t see any effect from Panda, no need to rest on your laurels. You’re probably a very inefficient publisher, and now everyone knows it (because now you rank at the top). If there is any interest in your niche market, Google will make sure you’re next to be attacked, until the profits are removed and you can barely survive. That’s the race to the bottom. No different than any other marketplace since the dawn of currency. Google continues to believe you should be happy you rank for rainbow sandals and suggests you capitalize on it.

My advice? Manage risk, hedge bets, optimize publishing, expect change, study the SERPs, listen to Google. Or hire an SEO consultant to do that for you.

Outsourcing hurts more than just Job Market

The media is paying increasing attention to outsourcing as the US economy struggles and jobs remain scarce. This is fine, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. Search the news and you’ll read about corporations shipping jobs overseas to lower production costs, to reduce training costs, and to generally reduce costs of doing business. Numerous other reports show the very large percentage of corporations similarly sheltering their earnings overseas, to avoid US taxes.

Meanwhile there are few jobs, high taxes, and decreasing services available to citizens.

But if you’re in tech and the web, you know how hard it is to find a good front end developer or web developer, or analytics ninja or generally highly-capable tech worker. The good ones are all fully booked. The ones that are available seem to be unworthy of your trust and dependence. What’s going on? Shouldn’t the demand for qualified workers drive the production of .. qualified workers?

Education and jobs.. collateral damage from the corporate outsourcing of American jobs and profits.

The public school system was created not to educate the masses but to train workers in the basic skills they needed to operate machinery and manage other workers.  Prior to the industrial revolution, government and wealthy elites preferred the common man remain ignorant and dependent on them for jobs and basic survival. With the advent of machines we needed operating manuals, and workers who could write and read them. Public schools were created for corporations. Go ahead, research the history of public schools.

Throughout history local companies have pressed school boards to adjust curricula to support their local manufacturing and service economies. Large tech centers like Rochester NY rose out of funding and political influence from large corporation (like Kodak). Schools developed along with industry. We needed to fight for academic freedom and well-rounded education, but the major driving force was jobs jobs jobs because success was global and we needed to stay competitive.

In the past 40 years we’ve seen the US drop in mathematics learning as Asian nations excelled. There are parallels to economic development. In my years inside academia, I knew many academic leaders who pushed diligently for better high school education so that students would be better prepared for college. High schools needed to prepare kids for tech jobs. Colleges intended to prepare them for better jobs such as Engineering and management and leadership positions. Leaders lead others… other workers.

Perhaps corporate America has abandoned more than just creating US jobs and paying US taxes. They may have abandoned  support of US education. After all, if they outsource the lower and mid-level jobs overseas, and select their top-tier employees from a global talent pool of self-funded university grads, do they really care about the previously important public school  worker producing channels?

No. They can externalize the cost of advancing civil society just as they externalize the costs of  pollution, hazardous waste, health insurance, and transportation. Soon I expect they will extend their externalization of the costs of defense to local security issues, as they increasingly need protection from the very same out of work, under-educated, lost-in-space citizens they have abandoned.

The decline of the community college tracks this…  the inflation of the higher education finance bubble is a consequence of the collapse of the middle tier of universities, suddenly left with inadequate qualified students, inadequate industrial and commercial support, and an embarrassingly disconnected leadership. What could they do but get in line with the Wall Street  Way, looking to fancy financial instruments to save their dying businesses?

The next time you think outsourcing is ok, and notice the substantial costs of worker hiring and retraining if you don’t outsource,  remember there’s more to the story. Societal collapse, for example.

SEO Innovation – To Boldly Go

I think to Boldy Go where Man Has Gone Before.. is Foolish

Even I am too young for the real original Star Trek sagas, but I do remember the daytime TV I watched as a kid, with episode after episode of Captain James T. Kirk keeping courage, trust, integrity and humanity alive in the Universe. And of course, the call to action every episode was “to boldly go where no man has gone before“. Wow… not just to go into the unknown, but to boldly go. That takes courage.

We SEO innovators put our courage to the test constantly, pushing limits and testing both Google and the marketplace. We go where no man has gone before, and often on behalf of our clients. When we boldly go, we usually go on our own, testing the waters or innovating, uncertain of the outcomes. Since in capitalist systems reward tries to flow to risk takers, we often boldly go where we believe we can successfully innovate. There is little room in the SEO research arena for timidity.

Recently I’ve witnessed a different sort of SEO effort though. I’ve seen SEO people boldly going where many people have gone before, without full awareness of the outcomes (seo history).  I think that is the definition of SEO foolish. As my favorite ADD coach says, go boldly, but not carelessly.

The other day in an initial meeting with a web team, I boldly stated that “I know that 95% of quoted statistics are nonsense, but I say 90% of SEO materials published on the web are wrong“. I offered  a money back guarantee on that claim. It’s true. The vast bulk of so-called SEO blogs, articles, and advice proffered by web vendors is misleading at best and typically incorrect (often outdated). To boldly follow such advice can be very risky.

When a webmaster believes what she reads about SEO on the web and then implements it, she either wastes time and effort (because it won’t work well) or assumes undue risk (making changes with uncertain outcomes). In search marketing, taking incorrect actions can cost you more than not having done anything at all.

Changes to public-facing signals (which by definition are search-engine-facing signals) always incur SEO risks. If something  is misinterpreted by the search engines, it can cost you. Even if nothing changes, the wasted resources bleed power from other efforts that could have increased sales or lowered costs. And if we analyze subsequent rankings changes (which may or may not have had anything to do with the “seo” efforts) from a correlational perspective, or otherwise biased cause-and-effect perspective, such efforts can gain negative momentum and cost us even more progress.

I wrote about the way the SEO marketplace skews understanding of the SEO a long time ago in a blog post about “A Market for Lemons” and SEO consulting. The marketing materials published by SEO vendors comprises a big portion of the potentially harmful SEO misinformation out there.

Following incorrect SEO advice is a mistake. Boldly following it, can be disastrous.

SEO contrarians have been more consistently correct than SEO pundits for quite some time now. Don’t let that stop innovation and experimentation, but I suggest the following approach to strong SEO today:

  • Don’t execute hard on anything you haven’t soundly tested for yourself
  • Don’t trust what you read from free or vendor-sponsored SEO publications. this is a variation on the old but very sound advice “follow the money”
  • Ask specific questions so you can estimate risk and reward, before you execute SEO tactics. If you don’t know where to safely ask such questions, you’ve just identified your first need: you need a good seo consultant (such as Audette Media)
  • Definitely go where SEOs have gone before, just don’t do so foolishly (boldly). Test and execute, and of course double down on  things that clearly work. You won’t enjoy the benefits of early execution for long, as the web is rather transparent when it comes to SEO (competitors will see you rank and figure out what you did… and copy it).
  • Learn why PPC is a valuable test tool for SEO. Join PPCBlog.com if you need cut-to-the-chase practical advice.
  • Boldly Go where No Man Has Gone Before – this is great advice. Do it on separate test sites or sites you can afford to lose, and learn learn learn. And if you find you love this aspect of SEO, welcome to my world of advanced SEO and SEO research. I hope to see you in the seobook.com private forums, or in-person at conference networking events, or involved in my future SEO newsletter WebPrescience.com.

Content, Facebook, Skunkworks, and The Walled Garden

Big is attractive. Now Facebook is so big, it’s a magnet drawing attention from otherwise reasonable people in online marketing. Facebook Facebook Facebook. It was previously Social Media, Social Media, Social Media but now it’s more specific because, well, Facebook is big. Billions big.

Whatever you’re measuring, find a smaller unit of measure so you can report bigger counts. People just love big numbers. Facebook had millions of users, but now it’s valued at Billions of dollars. Billions…. wow.

So Facebook is super important. Are you marketing on Facebook?

And then the same old  discussions begin… we have a “Facebook Page” (but don’t do anything with it). We have “Facebook friends” (but not many, and don’t do anything with them). We do some “Facebook advertising” (but most things we’ve tried didn’t produce results). Etcetera.

Take a look folks, and know your history.  Facebook is a closed community. A walled garden. Like the old AOL – America Online. It needs to be big to succeed. Huge, even. It must, or it won’t work. Big big big.. huge. Everyone is on it.. you have to be on it. Unless “just about everyone” is on it, it will disappoint. Etcetera.

So what about content? Well, why should anyone be on Facebook at all? In the beginning, if “everyone” is on it, you have to be on it. But once you’re past the “hey you’re here too? that’s cool I’m here too did you know Bob’s here also?” stage, then what? That’s right.. content.  Same old same old. Entertain me. Educate me. Adore me. Make me feel special. Or… I’l go somewhere else.

So content becomes king. Just. Like. On. The. Web.

Content? What content? Well, take a look at the reports from emarketer.com on Facebook activity. Who’s got Facebook pages? Local businesses, politicians, musicians, schools…. the top list is full of community builders or community-based efforts. That reflects the comprehensiveness part of the equation — if everyone in your group is on Facebook, you need to be on Facebook. It’s audience building.

Then look at the “Ten Largest Brands on Facebook” and you see the same thing… audience building, for branding. Coca Cola, YouTube, Skittles. What used to be done with a web page on the web and TV and other media, is now *also* done in Facebook (because a BIG community is there).

Look at what people expect from those brands with Facebook pages… “77% of new media users want brands to offer them incentives online. Additionally, 28% would like to be entertained.”

Content. Constant, attractive and engaging content to keep the audience happy. Just like on the Web. The big difference is that now your content is managed by Facebook. Your audience is “owned” by Facebook. Your web page (fan page) is owned and hosted by Facebook, who by the way can wrap it in any context it likes, etc etc etc. Just like the old AOL.

A few more quotes from that article, showing how much work is associated with publishing to Facebook to succeed on Facebook:

Coca-Cola, with 19.8 million Facebook fans, used a year-long social media campaign…to keep its Facebook page constantly updated with content posted by brand ambassadors.

Oreo launched an interactive game on its Facebook page in September…the brand jumped from 8.5 million fans in August to 15.2 million in November. The campaign continues and was also recently extended offline, with in-person events.

“Engagement, interest and constant connection keep fans coming back to a company’s Facebook fan page…”

Sounds exactly like a regular website (if you want it to succeed). So, basically, what you have to do to succeed on Facebook is the same stuff you have to do to suceed on your website. And if your organization doesn’t make and maintain compelling content on your website, will it do that on Facebook?

Sometimes I wonder if these Facebook successes really just skunkworks, and I wonder when managers will acknowledge that it is their own people that get in the way of their own people succeeding on the web (or in front of any audience for that matter).

It’s 2011. Go do it.

It’s 2011. Go Do It.

You’ve never seen anyone try it, but you think it just might work. Go do it.

You know it’ll probably take a lot of work, but think it would probably be worth doing. Go do it.

You have a strong feeling someone would be happy if you eventually got around to doing it. Go do it.

You saw her do it. You saw him do it. You don’t know why you were never given a chance. Go do it.

You almost tried it once, but then, on second thought, they were probably right. It wouldn’t have worked. Go do it.

You were raised to be X, Y, or Z, but to this day you think… I wonder if what if I could be Q? Go do it.

You were taught that black is dark, white is light, and colors make people happy. Go do it.

You know that when no one is watching, you feel great stylin’ your own form of dance. Go do it.

You don’t know how to do X, but always loved watching others do it. Go do it.

You’re no expert, but you know something about it. Go do it.

You wonder, why does everyone keep doing it wrong? Go do it.

You never did it because it really wouldn’t be great for everyone else. Go do it.

You’ve long known how to tell off your misguided politician. Go do it.

Still here? You know you’re going to do it, just as soon as…………………. Go do it.

PS: Less abstract for those who need to be told directly.. try these:

  • You have a camera. Go take some pictures. Don’t come home until you’ve printed them at least 5×7
  • You have an instrument. Make it sing something. Anything.
  • You have a bike. Go ride it somewhere. Now.
  • You have a funny hat. Go wear it in public. Today.
  • You have a terrible singing voice. Go sing a song. Loud. Nobody cares.
  • You have a blog. Go write about 2010, or 2011, and when you get to 3 paragraphs, hit publish.
  • You have a short story you’ll write someday. Go outline it.
  • You know what would make a good kid’s book. Go draft it.


Happy New Year
. Please make it matter. Pass this web page to someone who needs to hear it.

Update: now working on Silverstripe SEO

SquareSpace SEO

SquareSpace is a hosted website builder. As with most website builders, SEO is a big concern. Search engine optimization requires careful consideration of system level, site architecture level, and content level factors, separate from off site factors like link building. That translates into attention paid to server configurations, navigation and templates, as well as content structure.

A competitive webmaster needs to be in control of these factors, and most hosted website builders reserve a significant amount of that control so they can provide a stable, robust mass hosting environment. SquareSpace is no different. So how does SquareSpace handle SEO, and how does a web publisher using SquareSpace for a website manage the SEO issues?

  • Some of the many issues that need to be addressed, and which this blog post will explore as I expand it:
  • canonical domains and SquareSpace (see this scary thread)
    • Squarespace continues to publish sites on a subdomain, even when they use domain mapping
  • language and SEO (SquareSpace URLs are autogenerated, and character sets may be an issue)
    • non-ascii characters are stripped out of URLs, so if you’re using non-ascii languages your URLs are “SEO unfriendly”
  • SquareSpace creators exhibit the common “do the basics and SEO will take care of itself” approach to SEO, which I know to be risky and not a recommended SEO best practice by any means
  • Actual, real-world performance: I’ve got test sites out there now, and you SEO people can always run a quick audit yourself on the samples

Addendum: DevHub.com is a free website builder that does a good job with SEO while still providing websites via the software as a service model.  It changes with its evolution over time, but the team behind it had SEO in mind from the start.

What is SEO Link Building?

At first it seems pretty obvious what “link building” is… it is the practice of building back links to your site. But in the SEO marketplace, it is NOT clear today what “link building” is. What, exactly are you getting when you hire and pay a link builder? What are reasonable expectations for paid link building?

Today more than any time in the past I can remember, the service of link building lacks clarity in the marketplace. I’ve been doing SEO professionally for 7 years, and SEO was part of my job for almost 6 years before that. I’ve always done link building, but not the way I do it today. So what do professional link builders do for you today?

6 Aspects of Modern Day SEO Link Building

There are 6 obvious aspects to modern SEO link building. Some are integral to SEO, as you will see below, so in effect there are more than 6 aspects but these 6 get us started:

Link Building Foundations

Your content must be “linkable”, which means it has to present itself as something unique on the web. It doesn’t need to be truly unique as in one-of-a-kind, but within its target audience, it must appear unique and thus link worthy. This also means your content must be identified with unique URLs, so linking is possible. The foundations of link building require that your site work properly, be reasonably navigable and recognizable, and be “able to be linked to”.

Link to It, and Build Sites/Pages for Linking

Once your content is “linkable”, link builders link to it. They may adjust your within-site linking, or make use of your existing sub domain published content, your other owned sites, or sites where you have influence, to get links in to your site. A link builder will identify which pages of your site should be supported with links, and what sort of links will bring the most benefit. Link builders may have existing sites that can link to your site, or they may build new sites (or publish content on other sites) to carry more links to your site. Article writers do this, as do social media managers who create profiles on other sites linking to your site.

Link builders may create new sites in order to use them for link building, or may build new sites as extensions of your site, to benefit link building. These methods can be valuable, but care must be taken to align the activities with SEO activities (to protect your brand and your site SEO status).

This is link building at its fundamental core, and surprisingly many site owners have not engaged in this most basic form of link building.

Extending the Foundation with Directories

Professional directories and “listing” sites present opportunities for additional link building. Anywhere your competitors appear, you should consider. Your link builder explores such opportunities, and recognizes the ones that might have the biggest impact. Your link builder should also create links to you, and will want to expense any editorial fees or perhaps management fees associated with such links.

Good link builders know the difference between meaningful, powerful directory links and low-quality, questionable directory links. Oh, and not every “directory” is called a “directory” and this is another area where professional link builders bring value for those who hire them.

Link Building Innovation

Good link builders innovate to cause the marketplace to link to your content. Innovation might be content-based (infographics, interesting and remarkable content) or technology-based (such as new systems that make it easy to “recommend” your content via links), or activity-based (activity on exiting sites such as forums prompts linking to your site from third party locations). There is no limit to innovation, but of course innovation requires creativity, skill, and perseverance.

The best link builders rely on innovation first, and build their strategies out from there to suit your particular site’s needs. The innovative SEO link builder is sort of the opposite of the link builder who has a secret network of sites on Topic X which he will link to your site for a monthly fee. Link building must match your site’s unique positioning and needs, and your link builder should consider everything in the toolbox when forming a link building strategy.

Copy-Cat Link Building

I call this sadly common tactic “copy cat link building” mostly because I get copied a lot and don’t enjoy it. A copy cat link builder simply does what you did to get links for herself, after you already did it.

If you find a webmaster willing to give a link, and convince her to do so, the copy cat follows up with a request for a link to her site, too, sometimes even pointing out your link as rationale for her link. If you publish a list of “10 Favorite Thanksgiving Dinner Table Jokes” that gets a lot of attention in the marketplace, you’ll probably see 4 or 5 copy cats publishing “5 Favorite Thanksgiving Jokes” and similar rip offs shortly after, since your efforts demonstrated such copy cats can be expected to similarly resonate well in the marketplace.

By copying your innovation, creativity, and research, the copy-cat link builder eliminated much of the costs of link building, instead stepping in to steal market share from your link building instead of growing the link building opportunity base. It becomes a race of social media seeding, instead of link building.

Fortunately, Mother Nature built in some natural controls for such cheats and scammers. First, they put competitive pressure on you (the innovator) to be even better than you are. As you get even better, the copy cats have more trouble keeping up. Second,  cheats and scammers generally cheat and scam in everything they do (not just link building). Copy-cats tend to earn poor reputations for themselves over time, which lead to less effective social media networking and this less ability to beat you on execution.

Still, copy cat link building can be effective for the short term, and can definitely piss you off.

Integrated Link Building / Competitive Web Strategy

This is where modern SEO link builders really shine. Working closely with the web strategist or lead SEO, a good innovative, experienced, and technically skilled link builder can propose a strategy with a high probability of success in a given marketplace. Using existing content (which may need re-positioning or adjusting), or by creating new, complimentary content, the SEO and link builder work together to draw quality inbound links to your site. Nothing gets published until it is “link worthy”. Nothing gets published without additional promotion designed to draw links. No link is built without consideration for how it impacts the site and its SEO status. In short, integrated link building is part of SEO.

A Few Tips for Working with Link Builders

As always, keep your goals and objectives in mind and be transparent about them with your link builder. Ask, “what is my current link profile” before they start. Ask them to qualify it… tell you in writing how it looks. The same qualification will be asked after some months of link building, and the link builder should be held accountable for progress. If you are told your existing links are low quality, as why. Ask which ones are low quality, and how do they know. Use this to judge the quality of new links built.

What about examples of prior work or an outline of what will be done before a contract is signed? This is tough, and if you read the above 6 aspects it might become clear why some link builders balk at such a request.

If they use a “secret network of owned sites” to link to you, they won’t reveal that network or they could put it at risk. You should consider your own risk of working with such a link builder.

If they rely on innovation and strategy, they won’t have the answers before work starts. They won’t know what works for your site and your market until they do the research and perhaps some testing. The link builder can propose broad categories of efforts like quizzes, infographics, surveys, and curated collections (of images, of links), but not specifics. When you pay a good link builder for more than just links from existing sites, you are paying them to answer that question for you.

As with any activity, there is art and science to link building, but no one has yet shown magic to be real in any context.  Don’t pay for magic… pay for performance, results, or link building, and set aside adequate detail in the beginning so you and your link builder can point at the outcomes of efforts and agree on how good or bad they are. And most importantly, remember that link building requires a certain degree of persuasion of the marketplace (those who make links). No link builder can guarantee third parties will freely build links to your site,  but you and your link builder can definitely agree on what represents honest effort, what constitutes a hit or a miss, and how your money will be spent during a link building engagement.

Update: We’re looking for link builders of all styles and capacities. Send email to info at this domain with your pitch or other details. Don’t be shy… if you’re up front with your style/approach/capabilities you are more likely to be considered. I also have a trusted directory of link builders you may want to be in, which I will consider.

Premium Domain Name, Lazy SEO

I wonder sometimes if it is a strategic business decision to hire/contract/deploy low quality, short sighted, and or downright lazy SEO on premium domains. I’d think that a premium domain would represent a golden opportunity, if not a mandate to execute the best SEO available.

Perhaps it depends on which premium domain. Perhaps premium domains which have been purchased for premium prices are more likely to enjoy seriously gifted/talented SEO. Contrasted of course with the “stepped in it” premium domain owner, who holds an astronomical  paper asset value yet fails in the commitment-to-development department. Perhaps.

Adding to the recipe… the bigger organization that raised the capital to buy the premium domain, or absorb the premium domain via a portfolio or a key partner integration is more likely to be slow, bureaucratic, and lazy than the nimble entrepreneurial venture more commonly associated with high value SEO efforts. Or perhaps, in it for the long term, those same premium domain holders have not yet visibly revealed their outstanding long term SEO activities.

But it sure seems like a lot of premium domains slated for “development” are following crappy SEO strategies.

Web Site Performance

The lead calls out the name of the next song, and drummer starts the back beat, and the rest of the band comes in. The piece is underway, the crowd recognizes it, and the singer starts singing. It’s a performance. Everyone has practiced the bit, mastered the steps, knows the routine. They’re pros, and they look like they love being up there on stage.

At the best live performance, everyone involved with the production flows along with the jive, the mood, the flow…and plays to the responsive audience. It’s not canned, not pre-recorded, not the same as the studio track. It’s a little different from the last time, and a little different from the next time. These guys are really on tonight, they’re really good.

Most of us fans can tell when a musician is part of show or just supporting it. Most of us know in our hearts what makes the band – whether it is the rock star or the compositions, the lyrics or the visuals, or the unique blend of personalities acting as one. Sometimes it defies modern convention – like when the Grateful Dead brought folk and bluegrass to the rock and roll party and everyone just called it “eclectic”. That run lasted like 50 years (so far). Other times, well, let’s just say the term “cookie cutter” is aptly assigned to a lot of musical entities brought out by record companies these days.

Web design and SEO are just like that. The production of a successful web site is a performance. We — the SEOs, strategists, producers, designers, webdevs, copywriters — are the band. Maybe there’s a rock star lead, maybe not. Maybe there’s a groove, a jive, a flow achieved, which brings together a talented and skilled group of professionals, and maybe the audience engages. Or maybe not. Maybe it’s a cookie-cutter website. Maybe it doesn’t really fit, maybe it isn’t really so special, and maybe this web site looks just like the last, and the next. Maybe the players in the band are merely skilled, supporting professionals, and the bulk of the band could be replaced with just about any other competent professionals without impacting the performance.

When the guys are on, really together, they create something bigger than the individuals themselves. That’s magic, just like a priceless live performance. Can you do that?

From early stage SEO and market research, through client meetings where the client’s eyes are opened to the real online marketplace and customer actions, to design comps, moods, and functional IA meetings, we’re all composing, writing, choreographing and playing our instruments. We are creating.

We bring our skills and talents, and focus on the mission/mood/concept, in preparation of performing before a live audience of Internet users actively engaging with our content.  We may not be “live” when the audience enjoys our live performance, but we’re live during planning and production. It’s a little twisted – the audience is live, the performers are not. Isn’t that the future interactive recorded performance so many performing artists have dreamt of? In fact, won’t their ultimate achievements in that direction be web-based, using the same technologies we are all extending, perfecting, and “playing” as we build successful web sites? Yes, we are the artists leading the way, putting on the performances that will ultimately guide and influence those follow-on performers when they engage audiences via the web (when they finally get past the “we need a Flash artists” syndrome).

My project lead calls and says – “we’ve got a new project starting – in consumer products, starting with a tooth paste”. It’s like when Johnny Cash calls out  “Walk the Line” and in the band everyone’s eyes scan everyone’s eyes to synchronize the start up of what they’ve practiced so well.

I immediately start playing TheGoogle in the toothpaste space, looking at keywords, user generated content character, forming a symphony in my head of all of the channels of Universal Search and consumer engagement. Our designer visualizes the first mood board, hitting Bing for image searches, cutting out red/white/green striped tubes of toothpaste and 8 year old kids with bright white smiles. Creative/Interactive spits out early ideas like “we could do a B-move take on TheBlob, but it’s in color and the blob is made of toothpaste.. mwhahhahaha“. I laugh out loud… gotta love those creatives. Unafraid to start out on any new idea, to get the creative juices flowing.

We’re jamming… and it’s fun. All unique, all skilled and talented, and all fine with the fact that alone, we might be great but we’re probably unable to truly hit it and make nearly the impact we can make together, especially when we’re “on”. We’re a team, and for the next few sessions we be jammin’,  to see what comes out of it, backed by our seo-provided common vision of toothpaste, product claims, and knowledge of the SERPs.

It’s all good.  I hope you enjoy the performance.

Internet is not “free”

When Pandora.com asked me for $0.99 to continue to use their service, I immediately tried Grooveshark.com and last.fm. Prior to that, I had no interest in finding out what my options were for music over the Internet. Pandora was enough for me. I now use Grooveshark when I want to listen to something specific (album or series, or just individual artist or song). I don’t use last.fm because the interface doesn’t work for me. I still use Pandora (for free)  and it hasn’t asked me for any money since because I’m not spending as much time on it any more.

Am I so cheap that I would not pony up $0.99 for a service I obviously use and enjoy?   Nope.

The Internet is not free. I am not freeloading.

Pandora didn’t just ask me for $0.99. Had Mr. Pandora stopped by my table at Tully’s Coffee House and asked me for a dollar, I would have thrown him a fiver and thanked him for his music service.

Instead, Pandora asked me to allow a credit card company to  start charging me a recurring fee, with a few pages of fine print somewhere granting them rights and privileges, just to continue what I’ve already been doing without granting such privileges. To that, I balk.

Dealing with credit card companies is not simple nor free. In this case, for a $0.99 transaction, I don’t trust the credit card companies. Access to my permissions is worth more than that, and  everyone knows it. The request for $0.99 simply reminds me that a few industries are anxiously monetizing everything they can about my use of their service and anything else they can access via those fine print permissions and waivers.

Of course it’s not Pandora… it’s the system of industries controlling the flow of revenues. And the Internet. Pity poor Pandora, right?

I have many ways to listen to Bob Dylan with or without the Internet. As long as it is dumb simple convenient for me to listen via Pandora, it will have my attention. I’m sure a very small fraction of the user base spends serious time in the features that are unique to Pandora. Oh sure it’s potentially cool and amazing and revolutionary, but the best music I listen to is still handed to me on CD even today, or emailed to me by friends. As always, that control of choice is hard at work limiting my choices. Some things never change.

The request for $.99 reminded me I pay several hundred dollars per month to Internet service providers for this “free” Internet. Each agreement comes with terms and waivers and access permissions, in fine print.  Each is taxed, and not just with percentage-based taxes. Most now include fees and special taxes, many of them poorly described if at all. Who’s getting the money? Does anyone really know?

I pay for my cell phone, and then an additional $100 per month for that cell phone to access the Internet. I  pay for cable Internet and DSL, from two companies, and I pay for global wimax access through yet another company. I pay a tethering fee on another cell phone, to access and share the Internet wirelessly.  Everyone of these “deals” includes multiple pages of fine print waivers and terms, which most people don’t read and probably can’t comprehend anyway. Those of us who do read them often find them obsolete and/or full of odd terms that really shouldn’t be in there (but are probably there for very specific, likely abusive reasons).

When I travel I am asked to pay exhorbitant prices for a day or two of wifi access at each location. The service provided by hotels is usually of terrible quality and sans even basic security. Consumers who wisely choose to use VPNs and private “hot spot security tunnels” get blocked by nameless, faceless, voiceless IT administrators whose attitude is clearly “use the network our way or don’t use it”.As we all wisely opted out of the hotel wifi (to use wimax or other cell-based options), the hotels moved the $15 or $20 per day fee into a no-longer optional  “facilities fee” or “resort fee”. How nice.

The Internet is not free. It is actually quite expensive. If your service needs to get a piece of that pie, you need to chase the deep pockets, not ask me for $0.99. The way I see it, you all already are taking way too much, delivering too little, and hiding alot of potential risk in fine print you feel free to change in your favor, at any time.

One of these days the people will overthrow the establishment and some rules will change. That’s for certain. In the mean time, I’ll keep taking as much value as I can out of the free innovations, while the establishment robs me through the back door terms and conditions via my credit cards. From my perch I’m still paying too much for what I get, and I can’t really afford to care if Pandora or any other player in the game is getting his slice of the pie. That’s not my problem, Pandora, it’s yours. Innovate or die, like the rest of us.

A Picture is Worth A Thousand Words

Check out the new Digg, launched in August:

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You’re Free to Go Home

Many years ago, in the days when I thought I was competitive, I played racquetball. Now I realize that I was not actually a competitive person at all. I was a poser. But the racquetball experience is still worthy of re telling as a parable.

Out of college and flush enough to join a private club, I learned to play racquetball. I practiced (a lot). I got pretty good. I joined the league, and earned a reputation for being quick. I won most of my games, even in my first year of playing the game.

The club kept one high-profile glass court reserved at all times for “winner keeps the court” games. If you walked onto that court, you were challenging all comers to a “loser walks” game. Winner was king of that court, and could play as long as he could defend against all challengers. Loser walked off. I was able to keep that court as my own, frequently, despite challenges from all sorts of players.

Unlike some of the other “regulars” at the club, I played a well-rounded game. I was quick on my feet. I was ambidextrous, and enjoyed a wide reach. I executed a hard, accurate swing. I could predict where the ball would be with great certainty, and I had a good court sense (body positioning). I had an awesome right handed kill shot from my younger paddleball days, and my left handed kill shot got more reliable every day. I knew the rules, and could usually highlight the mistakes I had made in any lost game. At one point, I even thought I was “competitive” player. Sometimes I thought that I only lost when I made mistakes, or when the other guy got lucky.

Boy was I wrong.

One day I played this old timer who rarely showed up for any league play. He had a beer belly, and was way old (about 45 years old I think). He beat me handily.

I watched him beat everyone else, too, while I awaited my turn to challenge again. I lost again. And now we get to the “growing up” part of the parable.

This old guy had one move — a killer move. He could return the ball into a corner, with low velocity and low height, nearly every time. No matter what you sent his way, if he could get his racquet onto it, he’d dink it into a corner. If he couldn’t he’d take the miss and wait for the next opportunity. Obviously body positioning was important to him, so he had mastered that as well. He always got into the center court position quickly, and like I noted already, he had quite a girth.

Now any decent competitive racquetball player will tell you how to beat this joker. I discovered I could defeat him by simply returning every shot down the side wall. I’d guess which side corner he might dink into, just like a soccer goalie. When I guessed right, I’d return his dink back along the sidewall.

If I guessed right often enough, I’d beat him. He could never get from his stable center position to the wall fast enough and with enough grace to return my wall-riding return, so it became a game of one-hit points, based on guessing. There were no real volleys, and no real “plays”.

So I learned to beat him, and the loser walked. But it wasn’t fun. It was boring. Slow and stupid. And he came back next chance he got to try again. It’s all he had, and he had as much right to challenge the last winner as anyone else. I never got to know the guy, so I can’t say if  he was simple or perhaps just limited somehow and doing his best with what he had. It didn’t matter. When he was there, racquetball sucked.

Then one night he and I were the only players at the club. Hoo boy. Did I want to spend my night scoring points on single hit plays, all the way to 21, just to do it again, and again? Nope. I made an excuse and conceded the court. He could wait for someone else to play. I opted to be a loser.

I know now I wasn’t really a loser. I simply wasn’t competitive. When it came to the Challenge Court, I didn’t really “get it”. It wasn’t about being the best at playing the game. It clearly wasn’t about being the fittest player. It wasn’t about having the fastest shot or quickest feet, or best court sense or even the most experience. It was about winning. You win, you play. You lose, you go home.

That’s alot like SEO. You win, you get traffic. You don’t win, you don’t get traffic. Simple, really. It doesn’t matter how you play.

I didn’t stay a loser, mind you. I changed my game and my view of competition, and I actually consider myself to be truly competitive these days. Not at racquetball, but at many of the things I do. And that beer-bellied old guy had something to do with my competitive development. I played him many more times after that quitter day, and because of him I learned to be more competitive. I learned to enjoy beating his ass on the court. I watched him and picked apart his weaknesses. I used him as target practice… yes for the occasional bean ball, but mostly for precision ball placement. I learned to enjoy making him stretch a little too far, and move a little too far off balance. I learned to psych him out, to tease him. I got pretty good at grazing his left knee. I learned to predict two positions ahead, not just one, so I could set him up and then knock him down. I learned to win.

I got my racquetball enjoyment while playing every one else, and I learned to get enjoyment out of tiring him out early in the evening. You see, if he could play his way, he could play all night. But if I played him my way, he’d go home early and exhausted. I even remember one night when he left early, someone said “now we can play some real racquetball“.

It was all real racquetball. It was all “legal”, by the rules racquetball. That attitude that it wasn’t “our” form of racquetball is a loser attitude.

If you are a competitor, you play all comers. You might not feel comfortable against some challenges, and you might not want to play the way it takes to win, but if you are a competitor, you will. You need to win. And if you’ve got game, you’ve got a chance. Otherwise, you really should consider going home. Play on your own court, with your own rules, and have your own fun being great at your version of the game.

Now let me address the “hot point” I mentioned above, since I know some readers are probably stuck on it. I said:

That’s alot like SEO. You win, you get traffic. You don’t win, you don’t get traffic. Simple, really. It doesn’t matter how you play.

So it doesn’t matter how you play? That’s right. If you spam your way to #1, you played legitimate SEO just like anybody else. And you’ve assumed the associated risks of ban and penalty and social shun. Grab the cash while the vault door’s open.

You didn’t break any “rules of SEO”… you simply played a different way that led you to win the top spots. Google’s “guidelines” are not laws. They are a set of guidelines that enable Google to manage the eco system of Google search in a way that makes Google money. The guidelines are intended to help keep enough peace that Google doesn’t have to spend alot more money managing that aspect of the Google business.

Of course you should  never gamble what you can’t afford to lose. If you want or need to stay in the game, don’t get yourself banned or penalized.

If you elect to believe in the Almighty Google and subscribe to a “White Hat SEO” philosophy, that’s your choice. You choose to believe what you are told, and follow the guidelines. But you should be prepared to eat White Hat SEO meals at White Hat SEO restaurants. Don’t complain when the menu is limited to stale bread and off-color water.

Don’t point at your more successful (and probably spammier) peers dining at Nobu and suggest life isn’t fair, they aren’t “real SEOs” or lament the fact that Google hasn’t caught them yet.

You can trust me on this.. Google has been very busy. It takes a lot to push billions of dollars in profits all the way to the bank. Just like the old joke that Bill Gate’s would lose money if he stopped to pick up $10,000 on the sidewalk, Google is not anxious to spend its time blocking the sites that are spammier than yours. Google would much prefer you stuck with the “make good content” approach to SEO, so there was less work to do on the spam-fighting front.

By the way, what is “legitimate SEO” anyway? I think there are two primary aspects to that concept: legal and lifestyle.

Legally, if you’re not breaking laws, you’re within the law, and therefore legal. Plain and simple. Of course some countries (like the US) have corrupt legal systems so you need to be careful. It is possible for the innocent to be convicted around here. An indictment for a jury trial is a perfect example of the risks of looking too much like you’re a lawbreaker even if you’re technically not breaking the law. So you do need to be smart about more than just the legal technicalities, in order to stay “legal”. Beware that you may also win so much that they make laws after the fact and go after you for breaking them before they existed. I’ll leave the research on that for homework, but it does happen too often, and it’s not pretty when it does.

As for lifestyle, you make your bed and you lie in it. If your legal spam pollutes the Internet or causes Google to get even more patriarchal than it is, we all lose and even you have to live in the uglier world you helped create. So think about your actions.

If I know you’re behind that spammy network that keeps getting in the way of my legitimate searches, or you’re the guy that makes it impossible for me to “follow my passion” because you’ve turned my niche into a spamfest, I will definitely not want to have a beer with you at the next search conference. And if that’s not bad enough of a social consequence for you, consider that most of the SEO meetings, conferences, and communities are moderated by opinionated, experienced community members who commonly impose their SEO religions upon their communities.

Aside from the token “Black Hat SEO” invited to speak as somewhat of a sideshow act at search conferences, the respect follows those who adhere to the principles of the moderators and organizers. Disagree with the key players behind SMX or SES or Pubcon, and you probably won’t be wearing a speaker badge often if at all.

But, and I say this knowing full well a whole helluvalot of people will be pissed at the suggestion, not everyone’s eyes see the same colors. An eco-conscious father unable to feed his kids will choose to pollute for a paycheck every time he gets an opportunity. You should be aware of that, and not be surprised when it happens. In fact, I’d be disappointed in the Dad who chose to remain “ethical” and poor while his kids starved, and I think you should be too. We live in a real world, and real world guidelines take priority over Google’s guidelines.

Lucky for Google, these days Google makes the real world rules. So if Google wanted to, Google could make the world a better (less spammy) place. That’s a great seat of power to enjoy.

If the Google guidelines mattered, they’d be enforced. You wouldn’t find the spam ranking, and you wouldn’t see Google partners sharing junk content (e.g. MFA) profits with Google. Unless you think Google actually can’t do it — which I say is absurd. Google’s got the money, the power, the talent, and the drive. It’s ludicrous to think poor old Google is suffering at the will of spammers. Convenient, maybe, but ridiculous.

Chew on that a bit, and you may achieve some enlightenment about SEO. Google drives commerce. Google apportions the profits from that commerce. If you want to know the real Google SEO guidelines, follow the money. Look at who makes money with Google, and what they do. That’s the game, and it’s Google’s game.

Just like that old timer with the beer belly and the dink shot. What will you do? Quit? Go home? Play his game and lose? Complain that it’s not fair? Or decide to compete. It’s your life.

Response to A Fanboy’s Defense of Google

Self-admitted Google “fan boy” Ryan Singel wrote a “In Defense of Google” article on Wired.com today, calling out consumer watchdog group Consumer Watchdog. Consumer Watchdog has been very effectively lampooning Google on privacy issues lately. It must be starting to hurt, to draw such articles on Wired. Consumer Watchdog’s stuff is smart, just odd enough, sadly comical, and painfully insightful.

The latest was downright creepy… a very creative animation of Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt as the “Ice Cream Man”, that drive-around ice cream guy you don’t know but let talk to (and feed goodies to) your kids. Singel describes the artwork as “caricaturing its [Google’s] CEO Eric Schmidt as a creepy, high-tech ice cream vendor who profiles children”. Since I’m a search guy, I am very familiar with Google. I’m not a “fan” of Google’s business practices, but I am a fan of much of their work. So I “get” many of the little allusions embedded within the video that “civilians” might not get, including the FACT that Eric Schmidt has, indeed said many of the very things that this comic suggests he might say (which I assume make the caricature “creepy” to Mr. Singel).

I assert to you, Mr. Singel, that the reason this animated video is so poignant is because it parallels reality so well. The guy IS creepy to us, because of what he says, how he behaves, and how much power he has with Google.

As I skimmed through the article, I found myself contesting and discounting Mr. Singel’s statements about how unfair this characterization of Google and Schmidt is, time and again (and out loud… sorry Starbuck’s neighbors). Seriously… I work with marketers, issue framers, market shapers, and propagandists. This article is not good enough by current standards, but certainly seems to try to sway public opinion. When I got to the end of the article the kid in me sarcastically muttered “FAIL“, while the more grown-up part of me decided to comment in a blog post (this one).

A few notes… before I tire and move on to more important things.

“In the simplest terms possible, Consumer Watchdog is just wrong”

Nice try. Actually, in simplest terms, Consumer Watchdog is simply “right”. The parody is based in reality. Real factual accounts of things Eric Schmidt has said, ways he has behaved, things Google has done, and access it has to our (and our children’s) information. If it is exaggerated, skewed, biased, or even wrong on many points, it is still not “just wrong”. Next time try and use a more appropriate adjective. You can save yourself from simply being wrong.

“Have you ever actually seen ads on third-party web sites or Google’s own sites that are derived from assumptions Google has made about you based on your search history or what you have written about in e-mails? No, you haven’t. Google doesn’t do that.”

Fanboy Singel asserts this point very clearly and very early in his piece – a claim that Google just doesn’t do the sort of evil tracking the video suggests Eric Schmidt would do. As if to show Consumer Watchdog is lying. “Every search ad and every ad in Gmail or Google Images is essentially blind to who you are and is keyed off only the search term you just entered or the e-mail you just opened. That’s because Google’s ad tracking system and your Google account system are separated by design” Singel asserts.

I’ve been an SEO for a long time, and I have never, ever been able to state with certainty anything about Google’s internal practices like that. But then, Google never spoon-fed me inside information. Did this information come to Mr. Singel direct from Google? I wonder.

But no matter, because Mr. Singel authoritatively states that Google could do the evil tracking thing, and that others are doing it, and that it would be “easy” and “highly profitable” for Google to do it. Then he slips up and reminds us that Google owns a company that is doing it. Huh?

That’s right. He asserts that Google is way above the evilness of actually doing something it could easily do, is highly profitable, and easy to accomplish, and then reveals that Google owns a company that in fact does the evil deed for them.

“It does have a third-party ad service – AdSense (augmented by the Google buying DoubleClick) – that tracks what you do on the web sites that use its ad delivery technology. But those sites (with the exception of YouTube) aren’t Google owned, and that tracking isn’t anything different from what a dozen other firms, including Yahoo and Microsoft do”

That was one of the many times I muttered “FAIL”. If you’re trying to defend Google, best leave out the actual, factual, evil stuff like that.

Here’s my perspective. Google has, since it’s inception, told us how “not evil” it is.

It has repeatedly pointed to things others have done, suggested they were “worse” than whatever Google actually admitted doing at that same time, and claimed the high moral ground in public. Later, Google would change direction and execute on those same opportunities (often in a  big, powerful way). Just like that reference to Double Click not being Google (even though Google owns it) and Mr. Singel’s observation that AdSense sites doing Double-Click’s bidding aren’t owned by Google :

“those sites (with the exception of YouTube) aren’t Google owned”

They may not be Google owned, but they are paid by Google to do the tracking. It’s part of Google’s AdSense terms. Did you not know that?

As an SEO, I’ll even go so far as to say duplicity and deception seem to be in Google’s DNA, at best since Eric Schmidt came on board as CEO.

I know it’s a grand statement to say Google is genetically evil, but that’s how I’ve seen it consistently. I believe people are basically good, but they sometimes do bad things, not the other way around. Google, however, so far seems to have done all of the bad things it might easily get away with, and sometimes after earlier having publicly stated those would be evil things to do. Most of us older than 13 know such claims of “but Billy did worse” do not exempt us from social responsibility for our actions, but both Google and Mr. Singel seem to like that excuse tactic.

By the way, like Wal-Mart, Google is a public company, responsible to US law and its shareholders. If something is known to be easy and highly profitable for Google to do, and is being done by others so is presumably legal, I would be a fool to think Google won’t do them sooner or later, right? It would actually be illegal for Google NOT to do them. The only time a public company can successfully avoid doing profitable but legal evil, is if it can make an internal claim that there is downside risk associated with the profitable act. Risk of a public relations nightmare. Risk of promoting increased regulatory involvement. Risk of hurting partners or distribution channels, or other owned businesses, for example.

Just because it’s not a good time for Google to execute on an evil right now, doesn’t mean Google is above the evil act. Clearly history shows Google is very much capable of acting in its own interests at the expense of.. well.. everyone else.

Much of the details of Google’s duplicity are obscure and somewhat technical, but they are known to just about everyone who works in the Google-dominated search and advertising industry. Trust us, we’ve been there with Mr. Schmidt’s Big G and we know how the story ends.

I’d like the clarify that I’m not all anti-Google. Most of us in search and the web assume Google won’t do the worst things it can do. In fact, many of us risk our careers on that dubious presumption, despite our experiences to the contrary. The truth is, there is simply no other option given Google’s degree of control.

Many of us were very hopeful as Google got involved in things like blog comment spam, image hosting, and free Internet browser marketplace.

We didn’t need a new browser, but if Google Chrome would make the web faster, more secure, more standards-compliant and more “open”, that’d be great. Consumer Watchdog has been highlighting specific areas where Google’s Chrome browser leaks private data, even when Google claims the consumer is “safe” (such as in the Google-named “incognito mode”).

We hate comment spam. A rel attribute on an href is a relatively cumbersome thing to utilize to control comment spam, but if it removed the economic incentive for spamming blogs, that would be great. We are very wary of insider deals between Google (who already owns Blogger) and every major hosted blog provider (e.g. Typepad, WordPress), but if rel=nofollow is not really a compromise, and is really a cooperative tactic to manage comment spam, that’d be great.

Of course we knew the overwhelming driver of that comment spam was profit sharing paid out by Google through the DoubleClick-supported AdSense program, but we hoped for the better. We now know how much Google has extended this nofollow attribute to serve its own interests, separate from any comment spam hindering, and we all still have tons of comment spam.

We also loved the traffic Google sent us from image search enough to agree with Google that it was not actually hosting our images when it cached them on its servers, but rather giving us exposure (and traffic). Until of course, Google shut off that traffic stream (while continuing to host our images). Fool me once… fool me again?
Ryan Singel does to great lengths to list other presumably good, non-evil things Google does, and I can counter just about every one of them with an SEO insight that kinda shows he’s wrong. I won’t.. but I could. Okay… how about a quickie?

Google voluntarily deletes data after 18 months? Maybe, but wasn’t the public outcry originally against Google intentionally trying to save that data forever? And then for 365 days? Is the 18 month compromise really evidence of Google’s benevolence? And what about those comments from senior Google executives… that we should be glad it’s Google saving that data instead of some government? Seriously? Didn’t we already read (several times) about Google’s insider hookup (a.k.a. contracts) with the same government agencies that buy credit databases from private companies and hire contractors to exploit a loophole in civilian protection laws that makes comprehensive citizen tracking by the government illegal?

Now we have to notice that Ryan Singel isn’t speaking for Google (aside from that awkward question about where he got his insider data from). We have to do that, because statements like:

“that tracking isn’t connected with what you search for, what you do in Google Docs, what you do on your mobile Android phone or in your Gmail account”

These are likely to be flipped around in the future. Surely Google will do this someday. Why isn’t Google currently linking Android activity to tracking? Or using search activity to enhance tracking? It could. It would likely be “highly profitable”. See what I mean?

In this case, Ryan Singel may turn out to be wrong, not Google. It seems fairly obvious to me that Google knows when to hedge risk and hold back from too much aggressive invasion of privacy for huge disruptive innovations like linking every mobile phone to a tracked Internet user. But then again, I’m not a journalist. Nor a Google fanboy.

More from ConsumerWatchdog

SEO “correlations” and Reverse Engineering Google

This post is subtitled “careful what you wish for” or “know where you’re headed”.

Credentials aren’t everything. God knows our world is pretty messed up these days, and it clearly got that way via the actions of a few generations of very credentialed leaders.  From Ph.D’s to Grand Poobah’s with every sort of title in between, our “civilized” society has run a-muck with titles and credentials.

In an almost wicked reversal, our immediate environment is overrun with fake credentials. Nowadays I can place an advertisement into Fortune.com and then add the Fortune Magazine logo to my website with a claim “as seen in Fortune”. Or I can buy a set of glowing testimonials from seemingly real people for my product, without having to have any customers or even a product. It’s crazy. And it’s supported by a community of consumers behind the curve.

We don’t always need credentials to prove trustworthiness in fact, ability, experience, or legal rights. Some of the most worthy people in the universe are formally un-credentialed (and should stay that way, IMHO).

Truth is, I am actually one of the credentialing contrarians. I walked away from a nearly completed doctoral dissertation in Engineering, forgoing the Ph.D. credential after doing all of the work to pass the qualifiers, complete the formal requirements, produce ninety percent of the research and most of the dissertation work. I was a Ph.D. candidate and walked away, specifically because in my eyes, the credential failed my real-life value test. I simply didn’t want to be what I was becoming.

But sometimes, we do need some third party validation.

Statisticians lost alot of credibility in the past 100 years for numerous reasons, including alot of funny business. Today anyone with a copy of SPSS can claim to be a statistician. No one is defending the title. Not every consumer knows that an undergraduate degree is not enough to be a research statistician. Even a graduate degree is rarely adequate for research statistics work. And some people exploit that ignorance.

I’ve known Ph.D.’s who, armed with a basic grad school knowledge of statistics, invested in expensive statistical modeling software and became hyperlocal “stats gurus” in their niche communities. They bought every new advancement made by others, and brought the new idea into their own niche community. Have software, be successful. Many, many times their work was crap. Not many times, that was obvious to their peers.

Not too many people actually like statistics, so if a local guy appears to be able to get the job done and is willing to take the heat on critical review of the results, otherwise thoughtful scientists, researchers, and leaders choose to pay the man and move on.

Psychology went downhill the past century and took a lot of clinical research with it.  The field of “neuroscience” is split between scientists and pseudo-scientists, with a lot of hucksters in between. Behind the scenes you sometimes find Engineers (capital “E”, meaning they graduated from an accredited Engineering program with an Engineering degree) working in research laboratories (such as labs doing neurological research).  That credential ensures the Engineers know the fundamentals, and degreed Engineers don’t tend to make fundamental mistakes. It’s not a guarantee, but 5 years of passing hard undergraduate courses in Math, Science, and Engineering does not leave too many Engineers ignorant of the fundamentals of our physical world.

But you also see a ton of “neuroscience” laboratories doing the same sort of research, with technical experts doing the Engineering work. Specialists. Many are quite good at all the things that need to be done. Digital circuits. Analog interfacing. Computer algorithms. Fundamentals of measurements and statistics. Some of the greatest developments have come from such labs. However, an awful lot of ignorance has also stemmed from such labs, where outside opinions are often eschewed, local expertise can be overly revered, and cultures of “our way” may prevail.

Not too many scientists do great work in isolation. Peer review is important, and unfortunately, lesser-credentialed individuals are too often shut out of formal peer review processes.

In SEO, we are seeing a new age of Scientism with new applications of advanced statistical techniques coming out of so-called “research” projects. Is it valid? Does anyone know? Can anyone even check?

Is it safe to simply “pay the man” for his work, and move on with new metrics and new techniques that someone assures us are trustworthy?

History shouts “NO!” in response to that question. Where there is trust, there is an exploit. And the old adage remains true… “follow the money”.

Before you believe in new tools and techniques proffered by for-profit salesman backed by un-credentialed or questionably credentialed scientists, technologists, and statisticians, ask yourself if you can afford to trust them. If the data are incorrect, what is your downside risk? If the data are correct, where will it lead you?

If you chase search engine rankings via correlation analysis of the Google search results, where will it lead you? If you can reverse engineer the ranking algorithm by such observation analysis, to place your documents into the #1 spot, where will it lead you?

If your web site belongs there, such actions leads to success for you and for Google. If not, it leads to increased scrutiny and algorithm changes, as Google corrects itself and drops you out. If that sounds like success to you, you are chasing the fast money at the expense of stability and awareness of what actually mattered. That’s not professional SEO, and I am not addressing that.

The key to understanding the risk of correlation analysis is that even if it were valid, it assumes no basis for ranking. It works on the status of ranking sites, not the basis for their ranking. If Google were a dumb, static algorithm that might be useful. But Google is not dumb, and not static. Google broadcasts its intent to produce a user-meaningful SERP, and Google outlines characteristics of both quality URLs and URLs Google considers to be unworthy of ranking.

As dynamic as the Google SERPs are, I have a hard time believing any correlation work is worthwhile. Google engineers have frequently commented on the way the SERPs are incrementally built using filters and data from different places, under specific circumstances. In research, these are “environmental factors” and must be controlled when doing experiments. Correlation studies on data sets by definition do not control nor attempt to compensate for such factors.

I simply can’t afford to allow baseless observational analysis to drive my expensive SEO activities.

So what can be done? Certainly new techniques and analyses can be useful.  How can we manage the risk that the for-profit tool vendors may be full of baloney? How can we leverage our professional status to hedge our bets that these published “ranking factor” correlations are worth trying?

Credentials. Both hard credentials and soft credentials.

First, openly ask the question “Is he qualified to do this work?”

Why not ask? A few undergrad courses in statistics is not adequate to engage in research in statistical modeling of data as complex and valuable as Google’s index. Asking aout credentials isn’t damning. Why not ask? A serious researcher, when questioned about credentialing and demonstrated abilities, will at least seek to achieve adequate peer respect over the long term via credentialing or formal demonstrated achievements (such as published papers and peer recognized citations).

Very few are so gifted that they don’t need any additional training over time, and very few stable personalities will defend themselves with no basis. Or, we can see the sort of independent labs that evolved in neuroscience…specialists working on special topics that expect to be trusted and do not subject themselves to outside scrutiny. If we see that, we can be wary.

I can’t imagine a for-profit tool vendor unwilling to place a seasoned, respected, credentialed individual onto the public board of advisers if the staff are not adequately credentialed to satisfy our need for assurances. Sometimes that is all that is needed… let someone known, respected, and with an earned reputation worth defending, stand up for the work. They won’t do it unless we ask for it, so why not ask?

Second, ask to see real data that supports claims. It is usually trivial to produce data sets that others can use to verify findings, as that work had to be done anyway before such claims could be put in front of the public.

It is also pretty easy for you to grab your own data and ask “does it hold true with this real world data I have?” Is the claim reasonable to me in my work? if the tool fails to deliver on your real world data, you know not to trust it with…that’s right…your real world data.

Everyone gains when new research reveals new understanding, and when people ask questions. Only the for-profit sellers gain when consumers unquestioningly accept the hype and open their wallets, or encourage others to do the same.  In the long run, quiet acceptance of claims made by profit motivated sellers eventually leads to a field of pseudo science that no one believes, including your paying clients.

Why He’s A Domainer

I know a guy… he says he’s a domainer. He has about 3200 domains registered. It is like a collection. He collects domains. Not killer domains, just unique, probably-would-still-be-available-if-he-hand-not-reserved-them domains.

Now I am not new to domaining. It is big business, and a very strategic part of web publishing. But time and again I meet self-described domainers who “own” collections of domains like this, for investment purposes. The only problem with it I see is the domains are not worth very much. In fact, I doubt they are worth the registration fee. I refer to them as bottom tier domains, the ones at the bottom level of the value scale.

But it’s his collection of domains, not mine, so I don’t want to be judgmental. I don’t own any really big-time valuable domains myself. And to be honest, one or two of his choices may someday have real value. At less than $10 cost per year per domain, only a relatively small percentage need to achieve thousand dollar value to justify the endeavor from a financial perspective. But again, that’s not the point.

I always wondered why people become bottom-tier domainers. I think I’ve discovered why, after talking tonight with him about his domaining.

Before domaining, he had a computer and AOL Internet service and loved it. Then he got off AOL and onto “the real Internet”. But he didn’t do anything with it. He didn’t know how to use it, didn’t know where to go to do anything meaningful. He thought it was awesome every time someone sent him to a new, cool site. He had a few sites he loved to monitor, and he used Yahoo finance for checking stocks. He read the New York Times online. But he wanted to participate, not just read. He wanted to play a role in this cool new revolution called the Internet.

He tried blogging once.. it was a Blogger disaster. He was his only known reader. He tried to have a website made, but had nothing to put onto it and the designer gave up out of frustration (he says she’s still waiting for his content… 3 years later). He invested in a small web business with a neighbor, but lost his money on web development and no site ever materialized.

But he says that when he registered his first domain name he felt a real sense of accomplishment. It was satisfying, like a successful shopping trip. Different though, in that he now had something no one else could also have — a unique domain name no one else had yet “invented”. He invented another. And then another. He told me that in the beginning, he got an idea for a business printing official ownership certificates for registered domains, sort of like those wall plaques you get for approved patents or gold records. He said he would have paid well to get one for each new domain he invented and registered.

Now, 3000 or so domains later, he uses the Internet every day for Facebook, and to check on his domains and renew them. He owns a piece of the web, he says. And he has lots of development ideas, for later, and for discussing over beers at meetings and during Internet Entrepreneuring seminar coffee breaks (he goes to a lot of entrepreneur and business networking meetings, looking for the right partners for future projects).

So domaining was his entry into participating in the web. I don’t think it even matters what domains he started with… he just needed to start, and domaining provided the avenue for his successful independent foray into material participation on the Internet. Funny how he didn’t have Facebook back then. Listening to him speak about his experience, I suspect that if he had Facebook then, he would have found the same satisfaction, without registering domains.

Now he’s facing a new dilemma… he has almost 300 domains up for renewal each month, and doesn’t have a way to fund his domaining “business” anymore. It’s not an easy problem to solve, because he doesn’t want to give away any of his inventions.Would you?

Web Marketing is Building Relationships – One Minute Relationships

Sort of funny: I’m reading a website that ranks for HealthCare Seach Marketing, and it’s an ad agency that’s “all about building relationships“. Okay… I get warm fuzzies when I read that. Customers… relationships. I get it. But in healthcare, I start thinking hmm… maybe not. Well..

So I figure sites like WhatDiseaseDoYouReallyHave.com (not a real site…yet) might be about building relationships. Or WebMD and the Mayo Clinic info site (which cost millions to build) are about the health infosumer relationship building. They want people to think of them as references. Sort of. Really, though, it depends on web site goals. And many of these sites seem to have goals like the following:

  • generate ad revenue (ad impressions and clicks)
  • generate sign ups for a white paper or free trial (lead gen)
  • issue framing (influence the way an issue is viewed by the market)
  • brand placement
  • marketing (expand ability to achieve above goals)

So honestly, if this is “relationship building” it’s about 1 minute relationships. Shorter even than, say, the World’s Oldest Profession.

Of course much health marketing revolves around “community building” these days, which has been thrown under the bus by Social Media (thank you for doing that, Social Media. I’m so tired of hyped up, shill-filled health ailment communities).An awful lot of healthcare search marketing is about lead gen (move them to the phone or get them to stop by), or audience building (get them to sign up, register themselves, claim their profile).

One area where relationship building is everything is influencing the influencers. That is truly all about the relationship. Unfortunately, it is ultimately all about money, too. Oh, sorry. Not “money”, per se, but rather currency. Like it or not, most influencers already know they have some authority and in today’s economy, money currency talks.

Healthcare Search Marketing – Relationship Building One minute at a time, or One Shekel at a time.

BlueGlass LA

There is no substitute for “being there”.

When several established hard workers/players in the search marketing space make a move to combine forces, you have to pay attention. When they do it quickly, and apparently successfully from an operational perspective, you have to admire their commitment to both the concept and the success goals. And when they produce a new entity that looks, acts, and sounds like the Digital Marketing Agency we’ve all wished existed for the past 2 years, you have to say whoa….

And if you’re me, you have to go witness the dynamic yourself; to judge what the real deal is.  There is no substitute for being there, so I’ll be at BlueGlassLA meeting up with my friends and their friends this coming week.

I hope to see you there.

Page Rank Sculpting Still Doesn’t Work

Or maybe “Page Rank Sculpting Now Works Worse than Ever”

Matt Cutt’s latest video clarifies (again) his position on the use of the rel=nofollow attribute within your site. This time, it’s bad. It does harm. To quote Matt, “it does more harm than good“.

Like all SEO consultants out there (sans a very few), I have always advised webmasters to avoid the use of the nofollow attribute. Actually, that’s sarcasm. I kid. It seems these days everyone is claiming to have been an SEO since 1997 and to have never suggested the nofollow attribute was a good idea. Sad, but true.

I have never advised a webmaster to use the nofollow attribute on internal links. I have always stood firm in my belief that using nofollow on internal links was a bad idea, for several reasons.

And I have shared those reasons openly with my clients, whenever appropriate.

With the new “Caffeine” infrastructure, Google is able to annotate links in the web graph better than ever. Matt’s communications suggest that Google is reading the internal nofollow as an important signal, which it is assigning to the link in the link graph. So internally using the nofollow attribute impacts the external view of your links, as far as Google is concerned.

Rational thinkers suggested this years ago… if the nofollow attribute was intended to suggest a link could not be trusted, why tag your own links as un trusted? That’s what Matt is saying now… it will do more harm than good. Perhaps Matt had difficulty clearly communicating this in the past, because Google was not able to cleanly implement it in the past? Don’t know.

Not-so-rational thinkers assumed a level of granularity for the nofollow signal, which may or may not have been actual. They assumed it worked on an instance of a link… such as an internal link on a home page, without necessarily impacting the interpreted character of the destination URL itself (or the host site itself).

I never saw any real data suggesting “page rank sculpting” ever worked, but lots of casual references and, perhaps most importantly, sincere, authoritative recommendations IN FAVOR of its use from high profile SEOs like Rand, Stephan, and Bruce.

I’ve said it before. When you have a vested interest in having been right (because you have clients who paid a lot to be told to implement nofollow, and paid a lot to implement nofollow for page rank sculpting), you tend to develop a biased perspective.

In a  cab ride home from SMX Advanced in Seattle, I asked an SEO friend the following question about a high profile SEO consultant who sells an expensive SEO toolset:

“If Google changed something and that expensive toolset ceased to work temporarily, while the SEO tool vender re-writes it or otherwise updates the tool for the New Google, do you think the vendor informs it’s customers that the tool should no longer be used until it is fixed? Do you think the sales department stops selling the tool? Do you think they say

Sorry, we’re not selling our tools right now because they don’t work. But we’re writing new ones! They’ll be ready in a few months…

Of course they don’t. Caveat emptor.

Silverstripe CMS SEO

Silverstripe is an open-source CMS from a company in New Zealand, built with PHP on a LAMP stack. It is built upon something they call the “Sapphire MVC framework”, an object oriented PHP framework that does not exist outside of the Silverstripe CMS implementation.Silverstripe is released under the terms of the BSD open source software license.

SEO for Silverstripe CMS is not a mature area yet… most of what you find on the web for “silverstripe SEO” is marketing talk about how SEO friendly Silverstripe is out-of-the-box. That’s a good thing, for sure, but we need some real solid SEO information about Silverstripe, too.

I’ll be reviewing and modifying Silverstripe for SEO purposes, and examining the CMS and underlying framework for SEO aspects here.

  • URL structure/IA issues
  • duplicate content issues
  • URL hierarchy & “flatness”
  • technical SEO aspects
  • meta management and server integration
  • suitability for SEO projects (including user interface aspects)
  • other

Links:

Take-aways from SMX Advanced 2010

A few notes from SMX Advanced I consider important:

Google Still Insists on “No Site Search pages”

Good SEO work integrates user experience with search engine expectations. Sometimes (often?) that includes creating kick-ass site search pages for our users. We all agree that search is important, and site search is very useful (to users) for many (especially large) sites. Google even sells local site search products you can use. So when a good SEO hand-picks certain essential site search results sets and optimizes them to get indexed…. does it still violate Google’s webmaster guidelines?

Yes, according to Maile Ohye of Google (front row left). Google does not want to index search results, and the webmaster guidelines unequivocally state that site search results pages need to be marked no-index or otherwise blocked so they are not in the Google search results.

White Hatters can now go back to work… the rest of this post is just nuance.

For the rest of you: continue to properly managing your seo-friendly URLs. Maile acknowledged Google is actively testing some new approaches to handling the local site search issue, but emphasized there is no doubt that the current policy is “no search results in the index“. Read on for insights into what sort of solutions the current Google team is likely to produce and test.

Faceted Navigation is now Additive Filters (because Google says so)

The term “Faceted Navigation” refers to user nav crafted around functional qualities.. like a submenu under category shoes that offers navigation links for mens, womens, and kids. SEOs are working hard to create a great user experience, based on careful (and expensive) user tracking and behavior modeling. What Adam Audette called faceted navigation is, to put it plainly, awesome for users.

Google on the other hand… well let’s just note that while Google says some things, they often act differently. Google calls this “additive filters” and is currently investigating how they may (someday) accommodate it. Google loves name-value pairs in URLs and is very likely to produce a “solution” that relies on name-value pairs in the URL, something Maile Ohye referred to as “standard encodings“.

Drum Roll Please…..The biggest take-away from SMX Advanced for me was….

Google is increasingly a data-based company when dealing with webmasters (despite the “serve the users” rhetoric). Increasingly, Google will give webmasters marching orders that give priority to uniformity of structure, even if that trumps user experience. Watch for it going forward.

In order to maintain control, Google needs transparency in the crawl/index process. Transparency from YOU, the publisher.

Sitemaps tell Google your priorities, your freshness, and your canonicalization even before a site crawl. Microformats tell Google your content components and their purpose, separate from their context or how well your designers represented that context to users. Webmaster console identifies a person with authority for accessing your hosting server, and requires her phone number if she comes through a proxy or international network. The list continues to grow with name-value pairs and any future “solutions” this current Google technology team is considering via the name-value pairs approach : force webmasters to disclose their information architecture in the URL, so content can be parsed effectively outside of the view (URL).

That’s one reason “faceted navigation” is now “additive filters”… Google’s team  views the URL discovery process as a parsing of content (e.g. filters) and NOT a collection and presentation prep process for “views” suitable for search users. Views would be considered unique (and thus worthy of indexing and producing YOUR URLS in SERPs). Structured sets (identified by structured “encodings”) simply represent data.  As always, Google’s eyes are on organizing your information (not your web pages).

No matter how beautiful, engaging, and awesome you might make some of your local site search results sets, if Google requires you to identify them as product=shoes&color=brown instead of /brown-shoes-for-men, Google can control the data presentation layer outside of your web page.

End note: I apologize to the astute reader. You are correct… nothing new under the sun, same stuff we’ve been seeing all along, and your advanced SEO strategies probably do not have to change much based on this report from SMX Advanced 2010. But doesn’t it feel good to see things following a recognizable pathway?

Domain Conference June 8-10 Vancouver

The T.R.A.F.F.I.C. Domain Industry conference will be in Vancouver, British Columbia on June 8-10. This is a long running and very authoritative meeting within the domain investment industry, and is billed as a great way to learn the business side of domains. You can read the official announcements here or some press coverage here. I have been to several of the TRAFFIC meetings, and consider them to be among the best conferences I have attended overall, especially when it comes to making connections and learning the real behind-the-scenes business aspects. Where search marketing conferences are often a lot of fluff and filler, these meetings are very much true-grit business gatherings.

Vancouver is a beautiful city, just under an hour from the US border north of Seattle. Amtrak runs 2-4 trains per day between Seattle and Vancouver, direct from downtown Seattle to downtown Vancouver (a few city blocks from the conference hotel).

To cross the border and return hassle free, you need a passport plus driver license or other ID, or one of those new enhanced driver licenses (Washington State offers one) or a Nexus pass which gives you a fast lane through the checkpoint (read the tips about usage).

Ten Top SEO Blog Content Strategies

Looking for a content strategy for your SEO blog? Learn from the best! Scour the SEO feeds and twitter lists, and notice what works for the SEO crowd. I did, and I compiled this Top Ten list of SEO Blog Content Strategies.

Top Ten SEO Blog Content Tips for 2010

1. Make a “Top 10 List” of interest to beginner SEO consultants with little business experience. You can do it! You really can! Just pick any micro topic, and focus on it like a laser. Make up ten possible  things and list them as a “Top Ten” list. Don’t go into detail… you don’t want anyone to notice you don’t really know what you’re writing about. Just a line or two for each. I see people fail at this over and over, but for the sole reason that they add too much detail! Just make the statement, repeat it with a nte or two on how it *might* work, and move on.

2. Make a “Top Ten SEO Myths” post

Same as #1, just pick any ten things that peopel disagree about. Call them “myths” and viola… great content!

3. Make a Top 101 List

Same as #1 above, just super long. More than 100 so that it’s remarkable (101 is better and 103 is even better.. you get the idea). Prevailing SEO wisdom says many people can easily memorize Top 10 lists and so they read and move on. But tose same people will fail to get past 23 on your list, and so they will bookmark it. The truth is, they don’t actually book mark because they have no intention of coming back. Instead, they send it to someone else to try and extract some social proof value out of it. Go ahead.. test this for yourself! Or.. just write a Top 103 list!

4. Make a Top 10 List of SEO Posts

And yes, it can actually be a Top 10 List of Top 10 Lists. In the SEO field, even that will work! Go ahead.. try it! Consider doing it weekly.

5.  make a Top Ten List for off topic things for SEOs

SEO people pay to much attention to themselves and their friends. Exploit that, by showing them there is more to the world than what they already pay attention to. How easy is that!  Pick 10 things out of a gazillion things on the Internet. Cats, dogs, cakes, bacon… whatever. Don’t spend any time on picking… just DO IT. And do it on Friday or Monday.

6. Make  Top  10 Things Not to Do in SEO List

The contrarian route.. works great! Be sure and include “Don’t Publish Top 10 Lists” because, well, it needs to be there.

7. Make a Top Ten List referencing a celebrity and SEO

Something like “Top Ten SEO Tricks Jason Mraz Doesn’t Know” or “Top Ten SEO Mistakes Ashton Kutcher Makes”. Then take one of your previous “Top Ten” SEO lists (or contrarian lists) and add one line to each item, mentioning Jason Mraz or Ashton Kutcher. No one will actually read it… so just make sure you don’t write much.

8. Make a Top 10 Ways post for SEO

There is a little known physiological tendency among SEO people (believed to be genetic, but possible environmentally exacerbated e.g. beer, hard liquor, excess oxygen) to cite and refer Top Ten SEO lists. You can try it for yourself. See 9 and 10.< 9. Make a Top 10 Reasons why your should NOT Read This Top 10 List

Again, if it works, why argue? Success on the web is all in the execution.

10. Make a Top 10 Reasons why your MUST Read This Top 10 List

Seriously. Are we done? Lesson learned? Awesome. Now Happy Friday. Enjoy your Happy Hour. See you Monday!

John Andrews is a Seattle SEO consultant, and all around Digital Marketing consultant specializing in Competitive Web & Internet Strategies and SEO.

Internet Wisdom

I’m not an experienced professional but I have more websites and blogs on the topics of my career than any of the other people at my workplace do. That might be because they spend a lot of time actually doing the work, while I am an inexperienced young newbie with lots of free time and mad web design skillz. Or it may be because they know so much about the topic that blogging disconnected bits and pieces that might do more harm than good doesn’t make sense to them.

But it makes great sense to me, because every little thing I discover (usually because they showed me) is cool and interesting and (to me) seems to solve all of my problems (at least until I run into the next one).

Therefore I blog “how to” tips all the time. Even if they are often short-sighted, usually incomplete, and mostly lacking in sufficient detail. My blogs get hella traffic. I’m kind of a big deal on the Internet (amongst my Facebook friends). I might even get a raise because of that.

Today’s post is about Advanced IT Topic “A”. I had no idea about this stuff until this week, when my plain vanilla install of Open Source MegaPackage broke. It was throwing error messages like a circus monkey. Most were crazy incomprehensible but one caught my eye. I asked the old dude in my department about it, and he gave me a wicked smart command to run from the command line of the web server. I posted it below, so you can use it too. It might totally fix your broken MegaPackage install, especially if you get error messages like the one I got (which I used in the title of this post, so you could find it via Google).

So if you got that error, just try this command. It might work for you, too! If not, just keep trying stuff, because you might eventually come across a command that works for you, too. That’s how you learn! Or else you can just try a different open Source MegaPackage and see if that one works. No sense wasting hella time if the bugs seem too strong.

Oh and be sure to blog about your experiences, to help others!

Living in a Literal World

Online, we live in a literal world. I can’t over-emphasize that enough. Literal, as in “understood exactly as it was stated”. I suspect your readers are taking your communications far more literally than you suspect. True for visual as well as written. They see and “hear” (inside their reading minds) what they want to see and hear, and will use your communications to confirm what they already “know”, whenever possible.

When a policeman says “everything you say and do can and will be used against you in a court of law” she is being very specific. She didn’t say “may be used against you”, although many people hear it that way. She said “can and will”. And she said that because in our legal system, professionals paid by the government are charged with a mission of searching through all available evidence to find the parts that support a case against you. They have no interest in finding anything that helps you. That is presumed to be someone else’s job.

Every observation will be taken literally if it serves the intended purpose — convicting you. Otherwise, it can be disregarded or perhaps used as leverage in an effort to obtain additional, more convicting evidence. Your readers (and viewers) similarly examine your communications to find what they need to “convict” you. That’s all negative language, but the same is true for positive perspectives. It’s not always bad.. sometimes they are fans seeking affirmations of your godliness. How literally do they take your messages?

If people love your brand, they see the love in your messages. Much has been written of “confirmation bias”… a related concept.

So be literal in your communications. Add specific captions to your images, even if they are “obvious”. I assure you not only are they NOT obvious to everyone, but to some, they are “obvious” in ways you never intended.

Also be literal in your press releases. When you say “Our Firm was awarded a prize for great web design” you are telling the world that you do great web design work. But you may find that a much more literal communication will serve you far better towards that goal. Your readers need to hear more explicitly what the facts actually mean. I used the word “need”… because in order to receive your intended message (that you do great web design work) they need to be told that you do great design work.

By the way, the people closest to your customers know the best language for reaching your customers with your message. It’s one thing to win a design award, and quite another to win a design award that proves you are an awesome partner for your clients to be so lucky to have on board.

“Our Firm consistently produces award winning web designs. We received the great Web Design Award from The Official Counsel this year. Careful review of our work demonstrated we consistently produce more excellent Web Design work than other design firms.”

That said it plainly… we do great work and others agree we do great work, and we have Great Work awards to prove it. Now tell them why it is so important, to them.

“Great web designers often produce winning design comps in the first round, saving time and expense compared to less capable designers. Great designers also bring state of the art designs to you for review, instead of waiting for you to first decline common, more easily mass produced designs.”

You need to tell them the facts, but also tell them why those facts are so important. Place it into the context of your marketing message – you want great, we are great, everyone knows we are great, you need us to be great because of A, B, and C. You want US to work for you.

Get literal. It works.

DIYSEO.com – Do It Yourself SEO

Update: I’m “live blogging” my evaluation of DIYSEO.com, a new service that promises to facilitate the basic SEO kick-start for small businesses. As I sign up and run through it (as a professional SEO consultant in Seattle) I will add thoughts here, so if you are reading this on Tuesday April 6 be sure and refresh the page for the latest notes.

DIYSEO.com has been under development for a while and is now “live”. I love the concept – an easy, thoughtful kickstart to adding search engine optimization (SEO) to your Internet web site. Given the tools available these days for SEO research, and the established basis of SEO as a web business strategy, it should be possible to provide serious value through such a subscription service. Did they do it? Did they at least build a foundation for success? Is it worth $49/month? I hope to find out. Here we go.

DIYSEO Sign Up

There’s an affiliate program, which should be excellent for established SEO professionals. This promises to be the kind of service I would love to use as a reference for small business contacts. I will definitely sign up for this. Update: I hesitate… the affiliate program is part of the Google Affiliate Network, and requires an Adsense account etc. Not my favorite company for financial data. I will pass on the affiliate program for now, and pass along the feedback.
Nice web 2.0 site… promises a 27 second signup.. took me more like 18 seconds. I did have to sign up for the free trial with a credit card, but I know the people behind DIYSEO have a lot of skin in the online marketing game. No worries about handing over a credit card. I know where they live ;-)

I’ve got 7 days of free usage under the sign up, after which it’ll be $49/month. Seems reasonable. How hard is it to recover $49 per month? Given most SEO consultants charge between $100 and $500 per hour and most initial consults with an SEO cost upwards of $500, small businesses need to take risks like the $49/month trial (as do I as a professional.. I need to know the latest staus of the mythical “SEO in a Box” we expect one of these decades).

SEO Process Feedback

Wow.. that’s way cool. I just graduated “SEO Kindergarten” by adding a site for evaluation, identifying competitor sites and core keyword niche, and following prompts for some automated keyword research. And then awesomeness… it asked me to do a 1 minute optional feedback survey on that process! That’s has got to be awesome for the developers of DIYSEO… great time to ask. I will now add my feedback…

Keyword Research

DIYSEO uses APIs to keyword research tools. I think I noticed when it was returning Wordtracker and SEO Pivot results. Two things I noted as I worked with it:

  • The keyword research was no better than initial runs at Wordtracker, at first, but then as I added more specific keywords I could see SEOPivot coming in (with keywords pulled from my site’s historical performance in search engines). I imagine there is no upper limit for improvements to the automated keyword research of an SEO tool like this.
  • I love that the small business client is walked through this basic keyword research step! They see how “easy” automated keyword research is, but also how inefficient and time-consuming it can be.

I expect the automated keyword research to get better.

My Blog is Horrible. My old blog and its hosting are way sub-standard at this point. too slow, too slow. Alas, it is what it is for now.

SEO Middle School or Primary School

I forget what it said… that I was now in SEO primary schol or whatever after graduating kindergarten. Whatever. Building in some game theory is a great idea, but I’m not the typical doi tit yourself SEO tool customer and, well, meh.

SEO Dashboard

I am staring at my SEO dashboard for my site. Ranking reports (not available for 24 hours). Domain age, index status in Bing, Yahoo, and something called “Google” (what a stupid name). Anyway my s”Key SEO Metrics” are there, sans Page Rank (nothing shown). Bythe way I kid about the Google name. I actually know what Google is ;-)

SEO Backlinks

The Dashboard shows me 3 core areas: Key SEO Metrics (indexation & status), Rankings (not avail for 24 hours), and Backlinks (total backlinks and unique backlinks). Again, no backlink data available yet.

There is a social component.. I see a silhouette avatar and mention of forums. I can see how future clients will start here and either grow into DIYSEO as it grows, or use it as “k-12” education for SEO. Again, another stroing reason for established professional SEO consultants to participate in the community and secure a presence.

SEO Education

Okay now I see it on the right side column… SEO Steps with thevarious education levels shown with their sub-parts, with Kindergarten items checked off. Nice work on the interface. Now I need to do SEO Grade School, SEO High School, and SEO College.

Overall it shows I completed 5 of 56 steps, for 1.50 “hours logged”.. I suppose towards graduation? Will there be a party?

Spring Break

Okay it’s time for my Spring Break. I’ll return to this later, and look at what’s been updated. Then I’ll make a push to get to High School and see just what that entails.

Doing the SEO Tasks

I think this is pretty cool for customers who are adding SEO processes, but also for its potential as an SEO community project. The steps are good.. whocould argue with advice to add target keywords to your page content, consider adding target keywords to your page titles, and other SEO basics? For those just getting started with SEO for a website, the task list is great. Behind the list is the potential for awesomeness. Each “task” has a “how” link with a top on how to accomplish the task. Not everything is in there obviously. I’m sure this is a big undertaking, and I would expect them to start with basics and add depth over time.

For example, when I added this site I was asked about the platform and I selected WordPress. Now, whenit says to edit my page titles, the help doesn’t know I am using WordPress so it suggests I consult the documentation for my CMS to edit the page titles.

Newbies might think that’s a FAIL… that if it nows I use WordPress, it should provide WordPress instructions. The rest of us know, however, that the page titles are designated in the WordPress template, or perhaps within a WordPress SEO management plugin. It would be quite a feat for an automated tool like DIYSEO to know those details, yet.. do you see the potential? It’s a no brainer to watch the activity and supplement the help tips with content including links out to smarter help (such as is likely to exist inthe forums someday).

Again… SEO pros should be involved here. This system is showing customers just what it takes to be awesome at SEO, and we all know that takes talent and experience. kick start and edcuation… that’s what DIYSEO can provide, plus an interface to advanced, sometimes custom-specific knowledge for implementing SEO in specific circumstances (like whenusing SEO plugins or popular themes).

I am clearly more excited about DIYSEO for its impact on the SEO industry than client websites. More to follow.

Google Privacy

In case you missed it, this is pretty funny.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lMChO0qNbkY]

How to eHow

How to Scrape Content for an Article on eHow

eHow is a content publisher known for “How To..” articles. Lately, it seems eHow visits other websites, scrapes their instructional content (on whatever topic), and republishes it as a How To article on eHow.  Sometimes the entire step-by-step process is “copied” for the eHow article. I’ve noticed a few times this week, how eHow articles are basically copies of existing content from other sites, worse than Wikipedia rewrites. That’s pretty much “scraping”, even if done by poorly-paid human workers.

So let this article be an article on “how to prepare an article for eHow”. When eHow scrapes it and republishes it, the magic demons of recursion will appear and maybe we’ll see fireworks… or hellfire, or whatever. Or maybe not. Maybe no one actually cares.

Google Fiber – Bellingham, WA

Here’s some PR coming out of Bellingham. It was made by Hand Crank Films, commissioned by the City of Bellingham for a reported $5,000 fee. This was featured on TechFlash

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nA5AAxW7gAk]

See more PR efforts from Bellingham here. Bellingham leadership decided to spend money chasing this Google promotion, like many other cities. This $5,000 plus the cost of producing the 6 or so other less-commercial videos, plus I presume the formal application that had to be submitted. Meeting time for several officials, plus the contracts department and legal and accounting. Not sure if Hand Crank needed any permits to shoot this, given the string and all.

I’m sure someone weighed the value of this… oh let’s just say $35,000 total expense vs. the return of a shot at “free” Google fiber.

It’s All About You.

I just read a blog post about Twitter. It suggests that Twitter may go away someday, and we need to be prepared for that. Huh? If you read the post and the comments, it’s almost like some people think Twitter is what made them awesome, and some people think their own websites are way better than Twitter and should be the focus of attention, not Twitter. Huh?

Really now. Which one rocks, you? or Twitter?

Many people have blogs I will never visit (again). A little of their voice in my life is tolerable, but not a lot. I simply can’t stand that much of them. In many cases I’ve proven this in real life. I can say hello and maybe tolerate standing in a group with them at a meeting, but the one-on-one conversation just doesn’t work. Anything beyond superficial becomes grating. Yeah, I know…it’s me, not them. But guess what… twitter has been very good to those people, giving them a chance to stick around. And since I can “follow” them on twitter, effectively limiting them to 140 characters at a time in a stream of other tweets competing for my attention, I barely even notice they are there. Their tweets are rarely any better than their blog posts. Twitter rocks for me that way.

Some other people have awesome blogs and some write awesome articles. I read those and appreciate links to them when I come across them (often in Twitter). In that way, twitter rocks again, for both of us. Increased awareness of your awesomeness. Period.

No one should have to say publicly that their blog is better than twitter. The people will decide. And if you find yourself going to Twitter not because you like it but because you have to “be on Twitter” in order to get attention.. well… I hate to be the (only) one to tell you, but it’s not Twitter. It’s you.

Google DoubleClick for Publishers (DFP by Google)

See Google’s announcement  that Google AdManager customers will be migrated over to a new DoubleClick for Small Business version of the new Double Click for Publishers by Google system.

Google Validates SEO Consulting

Google has (finally!) come around and validated SEO consultants world wide, acknowledging that Search Engine Optimization is an essential ingredient of a successful web site. This took many years! Some will note that Google continued to deny the value of SEO right up until Google itself figured out how to profit from it.

Initially, in the old days, Google denied SEO even existed. They sometimes referred to a small, disjoint community of fringe webmasters “gaming the system” as if it were an annoyance for Google and something bad for everyone. Of course they did this as they built their massive monopoly on search and advertising. They also did this as insiders at Google (Google employees) build personal web empires to exploit their knowledge of how Google works both sides of the traffic control and ad publishing marketplace.

The SEO consulting field grew rapidly due to the market demand for something other than Google’s promises of riches to webmaster who simply follow the published Google rules. Clearly Google’s claims didn’t hold water. Those who executed on SEO practices outperformed everyone else, often to amazing degrees. Still, though, Google tried to brand SEO as evil (and in some cases, “illegal”). In many cases, Google was nearly forced to rewrite and update its published guidelines, as professional SEO consultants exposed situations where Google clearly didn’t behave as it promised to behave.

Eventually SEO had earned so much respect in the marketplace based on performance alone (even overcoming Google’s significant attempts to brand it negatively) that even Google had to pay attention. Matt Cutts opened a dialog with the professional SEO community, and, over time, Google increasingly acknowledged that SEO existed, was important, and that people needed to learn SEO.

Google started an SEO education channel on YouTube, addressing hundreds of common SEO issues. Matt Cutts and other Google employees contributed expertise about how SEO increased the odds for business success on the web. Google answered submitted questions, and Google employees participated in site reviews at search conferences. Google still didn’t openly acknowledge the SEO consultants, however, choosing instead to continue to warn consumers not to trust SEO consultants. For every few words acknowledging that some could be helpful, Google published dozens of words cautioning consumers of the risks of hiring SEOs or following SEO advice.

These days the marketplace has had just about enough of Google’s misinformation. Every day we read articles admonishing Google for privacy invasions, aggressive unilateral moves against select web publishers, and corporate behavior typical of yesterday’s AT&T, SouthWestern Bell, or Verizon. Google has become the big greedy insensitive corporation, despite its promises of “being good”. We are seeing reports of the equivalent of “insider trading” at Google, where Google employees help select friends and associated with SEO issues, secretly and “unofficially” at the same time that Google the corporation refuses to provide public customer support, or even a communications channel.

But now, finally, SEO consultants around the world can rejoice. Google the corporation has validated the SEO consultant. According to reports of  this Google post, Google will start offering SEO services on a limited basis (starting in Norway). Since Google always tests first and usually runs extended “beta” periods for their new offerings, it will likely be some time before we know how far Google will move into the SEO services marketplace. But one thing we know for sure: SEO is an essential ingredient of any web site, and it takes a  search professional (a respected professional SEO consultant or perhaps a Google employee) to advise business on how to SEO their web sites.

John Andrews is a professional SEO consultant in Seattle, Washington. John has been focused on Search Engine Optimization since before Google launched, and a full-time independent SEO Consultant since 2003.

Updated: The Google post was subsequently updated. I now see this (translated to English by Google):

“When we published this post, we did this in order to reach our target audience: Webmasters in the Nordic countries. Some readers misunderstood this as an indication that we introduce help for webmasters over the review of the pages; imidlertig this is not the case.  A site clinic is an opportunity for us to come up with constructive criticism and share tips on improving web pages, hopefully, can lead to better visibility for these pages. Our decision to keep search and advertising completely separated continues to be a definite fact.We should have made this clearer in the original post, and hope this post clears up any confusion.”

I received two requests to acknowledge this. I also note the language used… despite the fact that this still reads like consulting on seo matters where Google legal has imposed a clarifying statement denying any crossover between search and paid advertising, Google chooses language that claims it is the reader who has made an error (“Some readers misunderstood this…“). Perhaps Google needs to return to finishing school for a bit?

Amtrak “Creative Class” and High Speed Rail

The US Government says it will spend big money to build “high speed rail” connecting cities in Ohio, California, Florida, and possibly other states. In the fine print we see that “high speed rail” means a maximum of 200mph (only in one part of California) and more typically, not much faster than Amtrak travels now.Nothing like the “high speed rail” in Europe and Japan, by the way.

I hate to think that this is another stimulus to big corporations. We’ll be buying new rail cars and hiring shovel leaners of course, which is all good, but will enough of the money actually stimulate the local economies in the areas served? That doesn’t happen until the projects are finished. The initial boon will go to the real estate holders, developers, and those connected enough with the Oblama administration (that’s not a typo) to get the sweet contracts.

My vote is that Amtrak immediately get a tiny fraction of the stimulus pot to create something new called a “Creative Class”. Amtrak already provides trays and power outlets, so laptop use is possible during your ride. What we need now is high quality wireless Internet during the ride, and seating that encourages co-working.

I live in a small city with a “captured economy”. It’s beautiful here, but difficult to find work. Despite having a relatively high concentration of writers, artists, and web technologists, the city doesn’t have corporate residents willing to hire them. The Internet makes telecommuting a reality, of course, which is why they are able to live here, but some face to face is always important. Most of us fly out frequently to meet with clients, customers, and associates. Seattle is 2 hours away by rail, 1.5 hours minimum by car, but only a 25 minute flight.

Put a coworking car on Amtrak between cities and watch as we co-work on the train, happy to spend 2 hours on “slow speed rail”. I bet it would stimulate the economy, and do so in a green way.

Google’s Legacy – the Internet Cesspool

Google makes a market in freely copying and redistributing other publisher’s products. They do not make a deal with the publisher, and they don’t disclose the details of their activities. They don’t respect copyright in the traditional, accepted form, but rather argued for (and apparently won) a special consideration that treats search “snippets” differently than any other excerpt published by anyone else. They have since extended that “permission” over the years. It can be argued that Google has been given a “free pass” by governments, since it is innovating and governments are unsure of the total cost of resisting Google at this time.

Google assumes that publishers will accept referred search traffic from Google as remuneration for the copying and redistribution.

A publisher who does not want to “be in Google” cannot opt out of Google’s program, despite some claims that technical machinations like noindex and robots exclusions are available as options. Each of the published methods to manage your Google appearance has loopholes which Google freely and admittedly exploits whenever the marketplace signals that your content is important. If you mark your content as “off limits” to Google, for example, but others link to it, Google will still show it in the Google index and allow it to be clicked through. Ask any experienced SEO expert how to properly and reliably prevent Google from showing one of your pages to Google’s customers, and you will either be told not to publish it at all, or you will get a convoluted, conditional response that will most likely be very costly to implement at best. The only true way to remove yourself is to block the entire public world from seeing your content, or to engage in spy/counterspy maneuvers with Google’s bots. Why is Google able to get away with that?

Google also, simultaneously, makes a market in advertising on the Internet. Despite the obvious conflict of interest that creates, Google dominates as a profitable company solely because it plays both sides. Virtually all of Google’s revenues come from the advertising side, which is enabled by the scrape, search and display side.  But the conflict is troublesome even for Google. Advocating for what used to be illegal copying and republishing of copyrighted content without permission, while incentivizing publishers who put Google’s ads on such scraped or illegally copied content, Google has created a commercial force that even Google can’t control. Google’s CEO has referred to the post-Google Internet as a “cesspool”, full of junk content. It has become clear during the past year that our public cesspool of junk content is largely funded by Google’s ads.

Google is the hungry snake that has started eating it’s own tail. It can’t stop eating or it will die of malnourishment. But as it eats and eats, the head knows that one day, there will be no more snake to eat.

It sure seems that 2010 will be the year of reckoning for Google. A week doesn’t pass without at least one venture capitalist or entrepreneur showing me a new web strategy designed to exploit Google’s reliance on the cesspool of junk content. Systems are in place to auto-generate massive amounts of junk content with little to no overhead cost nor publishing burden. Dozens to hundreds of “companies” will launch such projects in January alone. Some are capable of achieving a massive scale. All are driven by visions of the millions of dollars in cash their junk sausage grinders will spit out, courtesy of Google’s ads. How can this continue? How can even Google survive such a gold rush?

A few questions the investors in these projects should be asking of the so-called entrepreneurs planning to cash in on the post-Google cesspool we call the Internet:

  • If the revenues are expected to come from Google’s advertising, then wouldn’t it be wise to document some sort of business relationship with Google before betting the farm? Obviously Mahalo and Demand Media have formal business relationships with Google to ensure the success of their projects as they scale. Shouldn’t you have similar assurances before stepping in to compete in the cesspool?
  • Why has Google worked so hard to prevent the development of cottage industries around Google’s index and search engine, if not to protect its search engine as a stand-alone entity? Won’t such junk content projects similarly threaten Google’s search engine integrity, and thus face a similar resistance from Google?
  • What is Google’s hold-back policy for all of these Google Guideline-breaking content plays? It’s one thing to expect Google to continue to allow junk content, but the Google guidelines still prohibit it. Would it not be wise from a risk management point of view, to know if Google can withhold payment for 90 days or whatever, or shut the account and keep the earned revenue without any notice?
  • What is the downside risk to building a platform based solely on publishing low-value content monetized with low-value ads? Will the domain get blacklisted in Google one day? Will the company behind the domain be black listed? Will the CEO behind the strategy be blacklisted? Will the venture capital firm, angel investors, or named investors and advisors be blacklisted by Google for future projects?
  • How much do other owned businesses rely on the integrity of Google’s search engine and search traffic for revenues? In other words, is poisoning the well with an exploitative fast-money web venture a good idea for the long term?
  • What is Google’s personality? How has it traditionally reacted, as an organization, to attempts to exploit its business model on a massive scale? perhaps it would be wise to consider the nature of the shark in the water before jumping in for a swim?

I sense desperation in the hearts of many involved in these ventures. I don’t mean the “we need revenues” desperation of a venture, but a true failure in the creativity and innovation department. A crisis of confidence in entrepreneuring. Maybe that’s an age thing.. is it time for a return to under-30 passionate CEO’s?

Related :

With the Proper Resources….

What seems like many years ago American business methods shifted. Money became more important than potential. Cash associated more closely to power, where “might” had previously been associated with power. What I mean by that is companies with real might in their industries, real potential stored in their established positions, had power and were respected more than upstarts, even if the upstarts had cash. You might draw parallels to stocks and dividends… Wall Streets demand for short term gains over long term profitability changed everything.

Things shifted slowly, but in the beginning I often heard “if we only had the resources to do this right…” even from divisional managers at large Fortune 500 companies. Apparently, even though they were powerful companies leading their industries, they didn’t have the resources to continue to be great companies. In the last 6 years middle managers have grown accustomed to being told to do more with less. I’ve grown accustomed to meeting middle and even upper tier managers at big companies who are barely prepared to do their jobs let alone excel at them. We consumers have grown accustomed to poor quality products, and even poorer quality customer service. Our economy reflects that conundrum.

I notice Google has resources.  What is Google doing with them?

Today Google offered to send, on your behalf, a greeting card/post card to anyone you choose, for free. It is not email.. it’s a physical, decorative paper holiday greeting card. You can send yours here. Why is Google doing this?

A great company in Google’s shoes might say wow.. this is a great PR stunt. Latch onto the communication of good wishes between people, and get some branding credit inserted into that transaction! Associate Google with smiles and good wishes! Lessen the overall fear of privacy-invading, all-powerful Google by placing the brand into everyone’s soft spot during the holidays. But it will cost money… perhaps up to twice the cost of post card postage, per sender/recipient pair, when you include the overhead (my estimate, which goes down with volume).

But Google’s crafty strategists could chime in and cover part of that cost. If we’re sending postcards, we’re validating real, physical addresses of real people who are either Google users or potential Google users! That is valuable stuff…  it helps the Google maps team, and it helps the local business center team, for example. What an opportunity to add more valuable data to the Google sausage grinder that has already been set up in a modular fashion to manage data about people and their associations.

And speaking of people and their associations, don’t friends and relative send greeting cards to each other? Another piece of value that will enter the sausage grinder… just as friend networks give Google insights into relationships and connections, this greeting card program would similarly add value, even at the very least.

There are so many ways this is a good idea. I’m sure you can think of a few angles yourself, which you can post below in the comments. If the people within Google work together or, if the data processing systems in place at Google  already accommodate management of this sort of universally-valuable data, it’s a winner program for Google… the company with the resources to do things well. And I bet they do.

If you are a manager or director at a company and want to learn more about how your company thinks, why not propose that your company offer a similar program for all of its customers? Outline all of the reasons this is good for the brand,  good for customer relations, good for helping to clean up and strengthen the customer and vendor databases, and even good for adding value to your companies side of its company-vendor relationships (vendors always appreciate your knowing more about your customers).

Roughly outline for your decision-maker how easy this is to execute… a simple web form, mentions in the companies seasonal mailings, a button on the “thank you” page at the online checkout, and perhaps a link in the “here is your order/invoice” email sent to customers. Highlight the availability and willingness of your existing direct mail provider to do the fulfillment for you (I bet you don’t even need to call to verify). If it’s too late to do for the winter holiday season, there’s time to test  it at Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day.

And when you hear back “if only we had the resources…” you know the truth.

Ignorance is Powerful

Ignorance is more powerful than knowledge. Don’t believe me? Look around you. Which force is shaping the world around YOU?

Pay No Attention to the Little Man Behind the Curtain…

Since it’s Thanksgiving Day and in my culture that means watching The Wizard of Oz, I thought I’d reference the wizard (the little man behind the curtain) while making a note of Google’s latest “innovation” — the breadcrumb URL replacement. Aaron over at SEOBook (a great source of free SEO tools by the way) notes that Google has strayed from its focus on relevance, and replaced user-friendly URLs with not-so-meaningful site breadcrumbs.

See some examples of Google breadcrumbs in the SERPs here.

I like that Mat Cutts responded by saying he’d pass along the word… suggesting that this innovation was not a quality factor, and perhaps had not received much internal debate at Google w/respect to the relevance argument. I think that makes sense, because I think this sort of Google innovation is anti-competitive, and part of a long term internal strategy. I told Aaron it was just another step towards eliminating the URL. I have long believed Google wants to eliminate domains and URLs for lots of reasons.

But right now on the eve of Thanksgiving, I want to remind everyone of the Great and Powerful Wizard that was actually a little man behind a curtain.

The breadcrumbs are the Wizardry..what Google wants everyone to watch. Something new! Another Google innovation! Look, helpful breadcrumbs! Naturally it is the professional SEO that remarks first how this innovation does not enhance the SERP, because properly optimized sites have helpful URLs. In the example Aaron provided, Google has replaced a very helpful, meaningful and rich URL with an much less relevant breadcrumb. But Google wants everyone to watch how those breadcrumbs help  average web sites, because Google doesn’t want you to look behind the curtain.

What’s behind the curtain? Google hates those who make a market around Google. They hate the companies that make tools that mine Google’s data. They hate the optimizers who scrape Google and they hate the rank checking tools that charge money to report on Google status and ranking. They hate domains that garner direct navigation traffic, because users can find shoes at shoes.com without asking Google where to buy shoes (and revealing that they are a consumer, tracked by numerous Google-owned marketing cookies, now poised to execute a commercial transaction).

This URL removal is an anti-competitive practice that seeks to hinder the efforts of companies that re-sell Google’s data, whether they be SEO research services or re-purposers (scrapers). It is the unique URL (and unique domain name) that enables everyone else to make money on the web. As long as every consumer has to go through Google to find a web page, Google has a chance to take a piece of the profits.

The urgency however comes from the competition.  As long as Google spends its efforts creating relevant collections of URLs and publishing them to the web for free, others will mine that resource and re-sell it into niche marketplaces for profits. And that harms Google in the long run (or so the thinking goes… you do need to think it through though).

Think about the businesses that have storeed Google results sets for years, and now offer research services. The businesses that offer SEO services, to help web sites rank higher than Google naturally ranks them. The reporting services… even the “let us manage your Local Business Center account” agencies are parasitic to Google’s business model of one website, once business owner, one Google customer.

This year Google renovated its SERPs to use 302 redirects through a Google redirector, instantly breaking many third party tools and disrupting all sorts of user-centric research tools. AJAX results sets also debuted, redefining the Google SERP as dynamic in a whole new way. And now, in this test, the URL is replaced in many of the results, swapped for breadcrumbs. It could have been anything, not just breadcrumbs. Anything but a direct URL, or a URL which could be parsed out.

Personally I like to see big successful companies that exert monopoloy-like power over public markets start putting their energy into defensive tactics. It’s energy not put into real innovation. It takes a wee bit of pressure off the upstarts that hope to some day challenge the monopoly. Like my lacrosse coach used to scream at me every day, whenever you’re relaxing (not  working out), your competitor is getting bigger.

Google Closure.. will you register your code with the Borg?

“Think! Think! Think!”, said Pooh.

Today Google announced Google “Closure”, a set of tools for efficiently working with javascript. With Google Closure Google has theoretically “closed the loop” on a number of javascript problems. Not problems developers have with javascript, but problems Google has with javascript. The problems haven’t been solved, mind you,because we don’t all use Google Closure for everything yet, but conceptually, if we did, Google would have a much easier time as web overlord.

google-closure-seo

I think it’s important to change perspective for  a moment, from the Google PR and developer world perspective, to the competitive SEO perspective. I’m not saying any of this is true fact; I’m merely implying intent the same way Googlers often imply intent when looking at webmaster activity. I’ve seen Google employees look at a web site that appeared to be clean, and mark it untrustworthy simply because the webmaster appeared to associated with other sites that were not as clean. That’s the world Google forces us to live in, so Google should live in the same world. If Google expects us to be slimy, it’s a pretty safe bet that Google behaves that way as well.

So what’s this Closure stuff? Google released Closure as four related tools for working with javascript. First, a js compiler, which “compiles web apps down into compact, high-performance JavaScript code“. There is a Firefox tool, which helps you see into compiled code for debugging, since without that no developer would compile anything that wasn’t considered 100% finished. There is a “well-tested, modular, and cross-browser JavaScript library” called Closure Library,  and finally closure templates, which make working with the Closure Library easier if you are totally committed to The Google Way and comfortable building js apps on someone else’s framework.

So what’s the SEO perspective? Well, you should go back and re-consider why Google may have started hosting the most popular javascript libraries on the Google content distribution network last summer. I raised the issue then but didn’t highlight specific reasons why I was giving it so much attention. Google has long distrusted javascript. Since Google can’t actually crawl and interpret all of the javascript that may be modifying published web content on the Internet, js provides clever webmasters with a means of resisting the Borg. But if we all pulled our standard jQuery and MooTools and prototype js libraries off of Google’s CDN, Google could “trust” our sites more than sites which hosted their own js libraries.There wouldn’t be any “funny business” if the libraries were known to be clean.

With Closure, Google is able to go a step further *if* we all adopt it. Javascript submitted to Closure for compilation could be “indexed” and assigned an id code on the web, so that from that point onward Google would be able to recognize (and trust?) that compiled code. Any change would necessitate a recompile (or, in other words, re-registering your javascript code with Google). Given Google’s development of the Chrome browser, Google could also offer additional incentives for code registration — it could run faster in Chrome. Or it could be pulled from the CDN like jQuery, and your project might benefit from a kick-start if you use the Closure Library and Closure Templates.

Again… I’m not saying this is Google’s intent with Google Closure. I am saying that if I were Google, I would certainly explore this as an opportunity to advance my control the web without stifling innovation as much as I would otherwise have to… such as Google has been doing lately.

With Closure, Google closes the javascript loop, with what is basically registration of js code with the Borg. Like it or not, whether Google does it today or not, it is a viable option for Google, and certainly easier than trying to license white hat SEOs.

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Related questions that Google should probably answer if it wants support from developers:

  • is this intended to compete with jQuery? Compliment? Or are devs expcted to pack jQuery through Closure, too?
  • why built another js minifier? Dean Edward‘s Packer works very well… even better than Closure according to early reports.
  • what about Google Web Toolkit js library? What’s the roadmap here.. or is there a js roadmap at all?

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