John Andrews is a Competitive Webmaster and Search Engine Optimization Consultant in Seattle, Washington. This is John Andrews blog on issues of interest to the SEO community and competitive webmasters. Want to know more?  Competitive Web & SEO
August 31st, 2006 by john andrews

More Craig’s List Censorship

I am completely disillusioned with Craig’s List these days. I am seeing so much censorship I almost feel like it’s time to analyze just how much influence CL might have on the American public’s perception of their communities. Check out the RANTS & RAVES section of your local CraigsList. What do you see? Well, if your experience is anything like mine (in more than one market), what you see is a product of a significant amount of censorship.

So what is the agenda, CL? Who’s setting that agenda? Shouldn’t the public know something about how many posts have been “removed by Craigs List staff?” God forbid the realtors get behind the steering wheel of Craigs List… we would never get an honest opinion displayed for more than an hour on Craig’s List! Every Seattle post about how it rains every day could disappear, leaving only the posts about the beautiful sunny days. Every post about a bad egg in the home improvement market could disappear, leaving only RAVES about how easy it is to find a reputable independent repair guy. What happened to the consumer, Craig? Have the lawyers so scared you that you need to pull any post that someone complains about, however valid, or however it might be helping the consumer?

The last time I moaned about CL (see “Wanted: Craigs List Manipulators“) I got a call from a Customer Service person at CL. He left a voice message on my cell that to me sounded both condescending and disinterested. Why should I call him back? I can guess that:

  1. He will want to know more specifics about my experience with Craigs List manipulators. I am unwilling to share that, because I am quite confident no good will come (to me) by sharng the market and categories where I experiences CL manipulation. It is quite enough for me to recount that it takes a small handful of people to manipulate a forum using collaborative flagging. I can even demonstrate it.
  2. He may want to ask me questions to see if I was serious about seeking CL Manipulators. I clarified that in a comment. I don’t need any help if I want to manipulate CL, thank you very much.
  3. He will document anything I saw in case he wants to use it against me (thanks, but I have a lawyer for that)
  4. He may say sorry (gasp) or otherwise try and make peace. No, thank you. Just fix the problem. Oh, and the problem is:

Craigs List presents itself as a community resource, for the people, yet experiences a significant amount of censorship such that it can present a false impression for the readers without sufficient disclosure of that fact. Does burying scaredy-cat censorship behind a broad “terms of service” that says posts may be removed for any reason equal prominant responsible disclosure?

Is there no integrity at all among these millionaires? Betraying the public trust seems to be the career of the century. C’mon Craig’s List, you can do better or stop billing yourself as a pubic forum.

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August 29th, 2006 by john andrews

Danny Sullivan leaves Search Engine Watch

The news of the day: Danny Sullivan is a free agent.

One of the biggest names in search, he started SearchEngineWatch back in the late 90’s around the time I first started focusing on search penetration as a competitive venue.  I was used to BoardWatch (no longer around), the defining website of the BBS world, and SearchEngineWatch fit right in as a fundamental news and information website centered on the emerging specialty of search. It was cool if only because it was focused on search, a field nobody respected at that time, but which excited all of us who played with it. To be honest, I didn’t pay any attention back then to who was running it or who was active in it. I wasn’t concerned with personalities…I was totally focused on technical aspects and performance.

The best thing for me will be seeing how Danny Sullivan redefines himself in today’s Internet/SEO world. That will be telling… and interesting.

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August 29th, 2006 by john andrews

Google GO words

With all the current chatter about LSI and LSA I decided to re-emphasize something I dropped in a forum years ago : GO words. Not the Go Words defined here, but the ones I defined for myself when first analyzing Google’s love of semantic analysis. Sorry for re-using what appears to be already defined in the search world, but I didn’t know, and I was contrasting “stop” words which also seem to be named on top of an existing definition. (I didn’t say it would be easy).

Anyway, in SEO “stop words” were words which, if they appeared on a page, would cause that page to *not* appear in Google (either for the desired search or for all searches). A stop word was something like “rape”, which triggered some sort of filter and wreaked havoc with search inclusion back then. In those older days of SEO there were clear cases of unrecognized “stop words” causing pages to be dropped, and we SEOs found ‘em and removed them. There were secret lists of stop words, allusions to secret lists of stop words, and all sorts of miscshpellingsh of stop words in order to keep the concept in the on-page text without tripping the censors filters. Sometimes stop words applied to certain queries, where the presence or absense of the word influenced whether or not that particular page “qualified” for ranking for a specific query. It wasn’t semantic analysis but censorship filtering back then. Today, these stop words would be considered either hard coded filter criteria or theme triggers that trip semantic set dynamics such that whatever LSA Google is doing in the algo, it is influenced by the stop word. You can see hard-coded stop words in action today with AdSense, with a minimal amount of effort (no, I don’t think the search engine and AdSense censor the same ways).

Once Google disclosed the tilde operator, we could play around inside Google’s synonym engine and that is where I was investigating stop words when I discovered “go” words. Go words (to me, at that time) were words which, if added to your page, caused it to rank for a query or thematic set of queries. I’m not talking about keywords specifically, but related words. Page without it, rank #30. Add the “go word”, and it rises to #3. Repeatable; testable. Go words existed and when you found them and included them, you were rewarded.

Because I’m not doing much real “work” to write this post I don’t have any “go words” to show you. I won’t reveal those I work with currently, and since I have many years in the niche markets I work, it is probably true that I still use most that I know about. In other words, I don’t have any throw-away competitive advantages to give you. I will say that it’s not too hard to find them, especially is you have SEO experience in your niche. They key IMHO is to know that they are out there, so that you can test without wasting your time. That is what I am offering here. No, I don’t mean to suggest that Google synonyms are “go” words. Synonyms are great for working with sets, finding overlaps, and testing pages against the current Google search index “corpus”, but in my experience Go words are rare and not simply threshold-triggering synonyms. When you find some you can test that fairly easily and see if you agree.

Now are “go words” hard-coded, filter triggers, or do they merely tip the scales of LSA-like algorithmic features? My experience is they are hard-coded, because a few very specific instances are just simply amazing to witness. However, I really can’t tell a badly tuned algorithmic dependency (a.k.a. “sensitivity”) from a filter or filter threshold setting… nobody but Google can tell you those details. My view is they are truly “necessary yet not sufficient” conditions for ranking at least in some cases. I would expect that as LSA etc. matures within Google, such things will go away. That will happen slowly.

It is refreshing to find a black/white “signal” like this in Google these days. Everything has become so graduated, when you find something with binary-like impact on the algo it is fun to exploit. When hunting, keep in mind that it really doesn’t matter if you find a set overlap threshold you can cross with 4 specific words, or a hard-coded trigger tripped by a single word: you are after the effect – put in, rank, take out, lose rank. Don’t get academic and miss the benefit.

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John Andrews is a mobile web professional and competitive search engine optimzer (SEO). He's been quietly earning top rank for websites since 1997. About John




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