If you don’t watch the mailing list you might not know, so if you use XAMPP for dev work on Windows, check out the security warning today.
Archives for April 2007
Looking at notes from SES NY, I came across a discussion of how Agencies employ people like me for their search expertise, yet don’t always know how to handle that “secret” when dealing with the client. Do they allow transparency, telling the client they have a search guy on board, or do they pretend to have all the expertise in house? And if they hide the association (as they frequently do), how does that serve the client when in fact, the closer the SEO is to the client, the better and more cost-effective the SEO? I loved this part and wish I had been there:
Sara Holoubek, a free-agent consultant, moderated the session. She asked the agency panelists to comment on the issue of transparency. Should clients be told that their Agency of Record is sub-contracting to a search expert? Should the search marketing firm have direct access to the client? Or should the agency keep the relationship under wraps and “white label” the search services as their own?
Amy Auerbach, former VP Group Director, Media Contacts feels that in general ad agencies and media buying companies just don’t have the search marketing skills and competencies required—particularly in the area of search engine optimization (SEO)—so she believes that partnering with search experts is absolutely necessary. But, according to Auerbach, the bigger question is, will the ad agency bring the SEM firm into the project at the appropriate time. She admits that there is risk associated with partnerships and when push comes to shove… many agencies tend to be conservative and keep tight control over the client relationship.
The challenge, according to Dori Stowe, former president of Tribal DDB Health, is that to be successful, the search marketing expert must be fully integrated into the project very early on. She believes that this requires transparency. Dori thinks it’s important to have a full disclosure policy and to be able to honestly say to your client, “Let me get my search expert on the phone.”
This is one of the reasons I went public with a professional profile as an SEO last July. Better than saying “Let me get my search expert on the phone” is saying “Let me get John Andrews, my search expert, on the phone”. Sure there’s some liability for having picked the search guy, but if you pick the right search guy, that liability is more than offset by the benefits of holding both the search guy and the client accountable through transparency. I’d hate to burn my reputation with your client under any circumstances, but in the face of account management blunders you might make, I can’t say I worry as much about your reputation with your client.
Of course, such transparency can be threatening to some firms and their managers. I think it follows the age-old truism: A people hire A people, and B people hire C people.
I love to compete, but I don’t hate to lose. I love to see challengers challenge, and winners win. This time, via clever but admittedly deserved hook-humility, Matt has set himself above the crowd once again. Kudos to Matt Cutts; he’s right.
Background: Hook-Humility is that age old trick of saying something humble just to get someone else to tell you it isn’t true (and thus, stroke your ego). It goes on all around you. Classic example: “Do I look fat in this?“, asks the perfectly fit high fashion girlfriend of her overweight shopping buddy.
So what did Matt say this time? Well, in a carefully-worded private opinion called “Google and Privacy“, Matt explains how he feels Google works hard to protect our privacy. According to Matt, Google works harder than other corporations to prevent the sort of privacy-invading commercialization of our Internet use and computer search data we worry about these days. For example, Matt notes:
My short answer is that from working at Google for the last 7-8 years, I’ve seen firsthand how much Google works to protect users’ privacy. I personally believe that we take more precautions and safeguards than any other major search engine.
Matt notes that Google was the only one of 30+ companies to resist a subpoena by the Department of Justice last year for search data, and that Google’s legal team won the right to not disclose user data. He’s right. They did.
Matt also notes that Google doesn’t require more than an email address and password to sign up for Google accounts. He’s right. They don’t.
Matt then goes on to compare Google to ISPs, the companies that actually know your clickstream data. Those companies like Comcast and Verizon and Qwest actually know everything about what you do and also know your credit card data, and thus your true identity. If you worry about privacy, suggests Matt, don’t worry about Google who knows only your email address, but worry about the ISP that knows and may even sell your clickstream data. And again, Matt’s right.
But then there’s the hook. The part that makes me say, “But Matt, you’re much smarter and more capable than the Verizons and Qwests of the world“. Damn. He got me. I’m complimenting Matt and Google, openly admitting how smart and capable they are. That’s the hook humility. Google is a great company. Verizon sucks, and everybody knows it. Comcast? Geesh. Do we need to even talk about them? And Qwest? The company that double-confirmed my business DSL line was installed and operational, when in fact there wasn’t even a cable connecting the entire office building to the Qwest network? And Earthlink? I don’t worry about them having my clickstream data, Matt. They wouldn’t know what to do with it, even if they could do something with it. But Google? Heh heh heh. Come on Matt. Google is wicked smart.
Yes Google fought the DOJ. But Google did it to protect Google from disclosing details of Google, right? Google only asks for an email address, true, but Google knows your IP number and Google has tons of cookie and toolbar data, so it can probably figure out the rest, no? Google could buy most ISP’s with pocket change, let alone make offers for clickstream data that cannot be refused. Hell Google could pick up GoDaddy (a privately held company) if it wanted to, and get all that domain activity data. Bob Parson’s seems edgy of late. I bet it’s available.
You see Matt, we hold you and your colleagues to a higher standard. You’re not an ISP, you’re Google. We don’t worry about you having access to our data. We worry because of what you have become capable of with your massive powers and near-monopoly status as a definer of the Internet experience for so many users. Everyone can buy guns, but we don’t fear everyone. We fear the crazy ones who are clearly capable of killing. We don’t want them to have guns, because it would be so likely that they would kill us.
When Matt compares Google to an ISP, it’s clever hook humility and it works. I admit it – Google is a very powerful, capable company of brilliant people, capable of amazing things. And you, too, Matt. You’re a great personality, friendly and thoughtful, and a good listener. You represent Google well, and do a bang up job walking the fine line between public relations, investor relations, and customer support. Even in the face of fire, you do well. And spin? I hate to impart intent, as that’s a double-edged sword I never want to see wielded by Google. Kudos to you, and the Google machine for having garnered so much forward momentum you’re basically unstoppable on your way to bigger bijillions that Microsoft, IBM, and even GE someday. But I don’t trust you Google, and that’s the bottom line.
Trust. That’s the only real tool we have. You know it, and I know it. Google wants to measure trust as a means of controlling search spam, and to maintain the advertising market it has helped create and dominate. We all need to know how we can trust a company as large, powerful, and wicked smart as Google. Yes, it would be worse if Google was openly evil, I agree. But is that really the point?
The best part comes last. There is hope. I may not trust you, Matt and Google, but I do have faith in your abilities. If you really want to show me that I can trust Google with the power it has, don’t show me how Google looks good compared to less capable, more evil companies. Show me how Google uses it’s power and brains to actually secure my personal data, not only from abuse by Google but abuse by anybody. Show me how Google rewards me for my trust, by helping the world advance the Internet to protect everyone from abuse, and encourage everyone to participate. Show me that Google is not only not-evil, but good. Even better, since you’ve got all those Ph.D.’s over there, prove it.
I look forward to the day. Maybe that’s what the FYIFV employees should do for giggles in the second third of their professional lives… form a foundation to advance the Internet along these lines and make it a safe place for everyone to trust. It would be great for business, for society, and even for Google.
References: I apologize for not providing an Internet link to a definition of hook humility, but it seems I already rank #1 in Google for it, so that would be redundant anyway. I have to give credit to Brother Harold at Chaminade High School, my first Creative Writing instructor, for introducing me to the term. I still remember my “11 common linking verbs” along with so many other aspects of that inspiring 9th grade class in creative writing.
This is a crazy environment, this Internet, but let’s not get too crazy, ‘k?
I was gazing in amazement at the current Web Too land grab on proper names, noticing how many dozens of “companies” are now optimizing their pages for their users’ proper names, when I came across this post by someone named John Andrews, a mechanical Engineer:
JohnAndrews’s Member Profile: I’ve been a member since Jan 6, 2006, and have logged in 445 times. I last logged in on Fri, Apr 20, 2007 You can click on the table below to visit the forums that I participate in. Please consider joining Eng-Tips Forums. As a member, you will be able to talk with other members, be notified of responses to your posts, and use keyword search.
I added the bold part. You know, the part where it seems to be a recommendation from me that you sign up.
This is obviously a computer-generated profile, but it actually speaks in the first person. And, it makes a recommendation that you sign up with the forum. How crass is that? I don’t know the details of that forum’s terms of service (the profile’s not mine; I’m a biomedical Engineer, not a mechanical Engineer), but I want to say to the forum owner, “dude, it’s okay to stuff your empty profiles, but stay away from impersonation, okay? Show some class!“
- Acquire or re-jeuvenate your ADHD (consult your doctor before discontinuing your meds, please).
- Sign up with Twitter.
- Post a Twitter Badge to your blog (see my sidebar), connect your IM to Twitter, or ask your bank to boost your credit line and connect Twitter to your cell phone text message account.
- Ask people to be your Twitter friend.
I’m up to step 4. See my Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/johnandrews
I’m also stuck on the utility thing…
Jill Whalen recently commented here that I was coming across as “anti-Google”. She used the word propaganda to describe the way I reported on the combination of Matt Cutt’s assignment of the spam label to sponsored links, and Google buying DoubleClick. That surprised me, but it also caused me to self-reflect: has johnon.com become anti-Google?
Nah. johnon.com has always been anti-Google. But this blog is also anti for most any abuse of power or authority. Google is just the current search monopoly. It’s nothing personal. As a tech consultant to small and medium sized businesses competing online, I have always been an advocate for the “little guy”.
As an SEO and especially an open-source-advocating SEO located in the Seattle area (Microsoft’s back yard), I am used to playing David to the Goliaths. As a technology consultant, I worked with independent software vendors who coded for the Microsoft platform, and watched as the monopoly expertly cut them off from their own markets, assumed control of their business channels, and then rather swiftly eliminated them from the gene pool. All that while playing the role of “partner”. Quick: name an independent software vendor in the accounting space on the Windows platform. Did you say Intuit? Did you say….. oh, never mind. Fact is, 10 or so years ago there were hundreds of small ISVs providing payroll functions, specialized accounting and reporting functions, tools and systems supporting small to medium sized businesses. Why are they all gone today? Don’t guess… ask them to tell you.
Nowadays Google has the monopoly on search, and search drives most of today’s traffic. And Google owns the big paid placement engine AdWords. And Google owns the distribution channel for that (AdSense). And Google is buying up the “raw materials” for the industry (analytics, checkout, DoubleClick, web master registration). This is no surprise. It’s the same thing Pirelli Tire did when it bought the rights to most of the latex-producing land in the world as a means of locking down the supply channel. Just as Corning tries to do in glass, biomedical device companies did with specialized DuPont plastics, Becton-Dickinson did with the hospital supply chain, Merck does with certain key chemicals used to manufacture generic drugs, and most strong companies do with their own industries. It’s called business. Such behavior is practically traditional for business. But that doesn’t mean it’s good.
The Internet has been unique in that small players could actually compete in markets, despite the positions and efforts of big monopolies. So far, anyway. As Google locks down search, Google becomes an attractive competitive tool to be wielded against competitors. As Google changes to become a BigMonster, it is much more likely to align with other BigMonsters than smaller, more innovative and less “monstery” companies. The Tool that is Google may become available to an exclusive club of large players. I don’t like that idea. Especially when the power Google has comes from the smaller players, who give it to Google. I think that is the definition of authority, right? It’s granted? It authorizes the use of power?
By the way I searched Yahoo! for a local service provider yesterday, and got a FULL PAGE of Yahoo directory results as a SERP. Every entry was a variant of the yahoo directory. No other options except ads. That is sad, but undeniable. Google is search today.
Is Johnon.com Anti-Google? Only when necessary, and only with the hopes of helping Google’s human employees to understand the basis of their authority, and the responsibilites that come with the power. Is Johnon.com Propaganda? Nah. If I seem to “spin” the words away from their true meaning, then I suggest that is a product of perspective, and the words from Google should be clearer to eliminate bias in interpretation. If Google didn’t have monopoly power, I wouldn’t care so much. But because Google has so much power, the words need to be clearer. Did I highlight that?
As a commercial competitor, I seek to understand my markets. If I can understand what the market is doing, I can position myself and my clients profitably. If I can understand how the market reacts, I can interpret my competitor’s activities in light of their likely performance in the market. In other words, I can compete.
A very long time ago I got into a discussion with my father about how deals are made, and how prices are set during negotiations. My father was a civil engineer working with large businesses and governments, and I was a computer networking consultant building and repairing systems for customers. I postured that the party with more information could allow the other party to set the price, providing guidance if the initial price point represented inadequate profits. In this manner, the less knowledgeable party would have to expose his value position, and thus indicate the “reasonable price” he would ultimately be willing to pay for the transaction. The more knowledgeable party had the advantage, clearly, but the important point for me was that in that marketplace it was not supply and demand nor value that set the price. The two parties did not check the offer price against a market price, but rather one-sided perceived value. And the perception of value was defined by the accessibility of information. A smart, more knowledgeable party in the transaction could afford to incentivize the deal for quick closure, as a means of preventing the less-knowledgeable party from learning more, fast enough to impact the price. I’ll offer this price, if you agree today. Otherwise, the price will go higher.
My father felt the price would be found via discussions based on value. Obviously we worked in quite different industries. Technology moved so fast, getting better/cheaper/faster while construction was old-skool, with large multi-year contracts, government regulation, and various forms of large scale collusion behind the scenes.
I recently read Bruce Schneier’s commentary on how the computer security industry suffers under a situation of consumer ignorance. I see mis-information as a core problem for the SEO industry. There is so much so-called SEO out there, mostly outdated, baseless, or downright wrong, that the accessible information is more wrong than right. A Google or Yahoo! search on SEO topics is ridiculous, for many reasons. Often accurate SEO information is considered trade secret by knowledge consultants, and thus is not very accessible. What appears in front of the inquisitive SEO consumer is mostly junk. This puts the prospective SEO client at a distinct disadvantage, and provides an opportunity for the contract-seeking “snake oil SEO salesman” to close a deal at a good profit, often without realistic accountability or other consumer safeguards in place. But, as the 2001 Nobel Prize winning economist George Akerlof showed in his famous paper “A Market for Lemons”, asymmetrical information does much more than that. It actual can destroy the market for true, quality SEO.
Akerlof analyzed the used car market, showing that the information disparity surrounding the value of a used car led to a collapse of the market as a used car market, creating instead a “market for lemons”. The used car salesman knew how good (or bad) a used car really was. The buyer could not determine that until after the car was purchased. Because of this “information asymmetry” in the used car market, used car salesmen could overprice “lemons” – the low value used cars that looked ok. Poor quality cars no longer priced as poor quality. Actually good used cars became too expensive for buyers to chance, as poor quality cars at middle-quality prices presented better perceived value and higher profits for salesmen. As non-selling good cars were removed from the market, masquerading “lemons” dominated, setting the tone for the used car market, and further blocking actually good used cars from appearing. In the end, the used car market becomes a market for lemons, not a used car market.
It seems SEO has the same problem. As “boiler-room” SEO firms cold-call companies and pitch ridiculously low prices for SEO contracts, based on old and incorrect SEO information readily accessible to consumers, high quality SEO firms start looking “too expensive”. Consumer research into SEO does not reveal better information, since that knowledge comprises a significant portion of the value SEO consulting, and is thus not freely published. The entire market for SEO services starts to become a market not for actual search engine optimization, but more a market for “snake oil SEO” than true SEO. The typical seeker of SEO services these days seems ready to sign a one year contract with little if any performance basis. I can only presume they are buying based on looks, flashy presentations, or perhaps on gut instinct after a personal interaction with the salesman. I suppose we can expect SEO firms to start hiring pretty women and smart dressing, friendly “SEOs” instead of the geeks that actually understand search engine optimization. For a service designed to achieve rankings in search results, that seems very very odd. SEO has a measurable outcomes. Unlike a used car, SEO is a service. Nobody has to sign an SEO contract that does not include a 3 or 6 months performance evaluation with hard metrics of success and a cancellation clause.
We SEOs can learn a lot from Akerlof’s paper, but that might not be enough to save the SEO market. I already see that tech-savvy seekers of SEO skip right past the fluff and ask for short term or no term engagements, performance metrics, and accountability. The price pressures are still an issue, though, because quality SEO services are difficult to find and costly to develop. Without the financial support of longer term contracts, SEO becomes classic consulting which is not very scalable until layered in a bureaucratic hierarchy reminiscent of the Price Waterhouse style of the eighties and nineties. That might not be better than where we are now, and probably supports the case for bringing SEO in-house. Once in-house, though, who will pay for the advanced training and research required to stay current and effective as an SEO?
It seems the key issue for SEO consultants will be bringing performance metrics out front a.s.a.p., to appease the interests of paying clients while satisfying the need for results-oriented pay for SEOs. Those who work on a performance basis probably know what I mean by that, and probably find it exciting (as I do). Unfortunately, it means more secret information outside of the view of the general public. Alas, isn’t that what true SEO has always been?
In my WordPress dashboard I saw a mention of “One Day Blog Silence”. I followed the link, and saw a page promoting a “day of blog silence” in honor of those touched by the Virginia Tech tragedy. What a waste. The blog world doesn’t need silence. The families and friends of those killed and injured don’t need a no-blog-post day. Our American society doesn’t need silence regarding this event, and the world doesn’t need silence around this event. If anything, we need more talk.
If you’re a blogger, why should you be “quiet” out of respect? You should be blogging.
Blog about the outrage that a young man would be so moved by the events of his world that he would arm himself and massacre dozens of his peers, and then himself.
Blog about your views on gun control – should we allow citizen arms, and if not, how do we defend ourselves? And if we do allow arms, how do we prevent acts of armed violence? Why is our own local police force arming itself with powerful crowd control weaponry, and since it is, what should be our rights to bear arms?
Blog about the prison system, which has grown into one of the most profitable government-industrial complexes in our society. Blog about how hundreds of thousands of low-level criminals are jailed each year, while the FBI virtually stopped prosecuting white collar criminals after 9-11 because field agents were pulled over to terrorism duty. Blog about how ex-convicts can’t vote until they pay off financial debts to society for all offenses, yet regular citizens can vote even while in bankruptcy court (deep in unpaid debts).
Blog about how our American society is driven by fear and fear mongering, to the point of excessive self-ensconced individualism. Blog about how that closed-door, protect myself individualism erodes confidence and fosters the kind of paranoia that fuels radical and blind religious and political fanaticism. Banning gay marriage to protect the American Family? How about stopping the assault on non-faith-based community, as a means of protecting the American family?
Blog about how a young man, desperate for whatever reason to take action to relieve himself of his emotionally painful personal predicament, sees no better option than assaulting a helpless community one bullet at a time. Blog about the way society, whether it was his father, his mother, his neighbors, the bullies at his school or the nasty clique that excluded him from social activities, taught him to respond with bullying aggression that includes bolting escape exits, targeting upper floors, and carrying multiple hand guns “execution style”.
Courage is a powerful and poorly understood character trait, but it is invariably courage that improves the world. Have some courage. Don’t stay silent. Speak up, and do your job.
In a one-two punch sending many web masters reeling, Google has announced it is buying dominant Internet advertising system DoubleClick for more than $3 billion dollars, and deploying new algorithms designed to penalize web sites that accept paid advertising outside of the Google advertising network. In light of this action by Internet search behemoth Google, a web master would have to be very foolish to accept paid advertising that did not contribute profit share to Google machine. The risk of losing value in the search rankings is simply too great.
The DoubleClick deal has some analysts puzzled, as the $3+ Billion dollar price seems very excessive given the reported sub-200 million dollar earnings booked by DoubleClick. But when coupled with the new rules banning sponsored links, reviews, and articles unless they are registered with Google first, this move makes sense. Google might be able to own all Internet advertising by effectively banning everything not included in the combined monster network of DoubleClick + AdSense. It seems that is what has begun.
Even Google-loving web masters are concerned because of the way these new rules were announced by Search Spam Team representative Matt Cutts. While Matt stated that there were “tons” of ways to report sponsored links, articles, and reviews so they wouldn’t earn Google’s wrath, he only named two of those ways. One of them was quite complex, requiring multiple layers of pages (some redirected with specialized computer code) to funnel traffic according to whether or not it followed sponsorship. It’s isn’t clear that many web masters are capable of implementing such sophisticated schemes. The second method mentioned by Matt Cutts included the use of a controversial HTML tag attribute introduced by Google without sanction from the HTML standards body known as the W3C. This places web masters in a professional predicament; do they adhere to professional standards, or bow to the Google rules instead? The new use of this attribute also seems to contradict Google’s own previous description of it’s intended use.
To put it mildly, web masters are confused and frightened by the new actions by Google. In many cases, Google controls as much as 95% of the traffic coming to web sites. Sweeping changes like these can destroy web-based businesses unable to decipher the new rules or get into compliance fast enough (if that is even possible). The danger may be greatest for business owners, however, who know even less about the technical details of web sites. Previously accepted practices like linking to other websites are now high-risk, as Google threatens to devalue sites that link out under sponsored arrangements like discounts, membership or even professional courtesy.
Does your web design firm “require” a link on your web site, back to their web site? According to Matt Cutts, the Google Quality/Spam team manager, those back links will now be detected and labeled by Google as “search engine spam”, and your site will suffer in the search rankings. Matt doesn’t give a time schedule for the new rule, but does say that Google has not only already developed the detection algorithms, but is actively testing them right now. Matt has asked people to send in reports when they see such links. It seems that Matt wants those “sure thing” sponsored links so he can test the reliability of the new penalty algorithms.
The practice of including links back to web design firms is an old one. Commonly you get two price options for your web design: price one, which does not require a back link, is much cheaper than the second price. The second price includes a requirement that you credit the designer firm with the work, by way of a promotional advertisement Google is now calling “paid links”. According to Matt Cutts this past week, it is that price break that makes the link illegal in the eyes of Google, and Google will diminish the value of sites that include such links as a way of dealing with them.
Naturally there is a good deal of discussion on the web right now about this flex of muscle by TheMightyGoogle. Non-profit agencies that link to their sponsors and donors are looking at Google penalties for doing so, under the new rules as described by Matt Cutts. So are membership organizations which list their paying members on their web sites (with back links to member’s sites). It’s all illegal under the new rules.
The new rule also hurts web hosting companies , who commonly provide reduced cost hosting for selected projects or customers, often non-profits and good causes. Sometimes they require a back link, but many times the grateful customer gladly places such a link as a means of saying “thanks” for the help. Now, that link will hurt the charity, as Google calls it “spam” and takes action to devalue it, whethe rit really is a padi link or just looks like one (or is reported to be one by some oddball Google fan out there). Geesh. This is getting scary, no?
I get unsolicited solicitations from search marketing companies all the time. Lately, they come with gmail addresses. I wonder if the gmail address is the new AOL address? We used to joke, “nothing says professional like an AOL email address” and these days I’m thinking the same thing about gmail.
What I think when I see a gmail address :
GMail says Fly By Night: the domain can change but the contact stays the same. Today it’s MoreTrafficForYou.biz, the next day that is gone and firstname.lastname@example.org is coming out of TopChartsSearchTraffic.info. He can keep working, even if the boiler room can’t keep the domain of the Attorney General’s list, the critical blogosphere, the consumer alerts, etc.
GMail says I Share Your Info: He uses a gmail address so anything you write to him is indexed by Google, forever. Did he menton your domain in his email? Now everything you say is linked to your domain. His name (and email) are already associated with your domain in the Google index. Forever. Ever look at what Google did with the old Usenet posts of yesteryear? Google indexed them and made them freely accessible to anyone searching. Back in the old days, when schools used social security numbers as student ID numbers, and student ID numbers as user accounts? Yup. Google presents it all for scammers and identity thieves to peruse. And Google won’t clean it up, either. GMail says danger.
Gmail says Lazy: Professional Internet business people have mail servers or professional mail services. Not Yahoo mail, not Hotmail, and not peoplepc.com. They have professional services because they need to be reliable. Trustworthy. They have to make sure they have backups in place, and at least an awareness of email interruptions via monitoring. Business people are trusted for the decisions they make. When they decide to rely on hotmail for their email, what does that say about their decision making? If they choose GMail over their own domain email, what does that say about their decision making? I think it says lazy, or cheap/uncommitted, or foolish. Note: This does not apply to technical workers, and independent communications such as I might use in my professional (non-client) activities. GMail is modern and on the edge of tech, so it can actually be a good signal that shows someone is up to date, staying involved, watching closely. But in those cases, the context and other clues tell the story even if the gmail address is acceptable.
I know GMail has conversation threading (I also know GMail makes decisions about what emails to keep, and what to throw away no matter how you feel about it). I know it’s convenient. I know it’s free. So what? Why should I not have these off feelings when I see a gmail email address?
Brian over at Platinax Business Forum followed up on his use of ReviewMe for marketing. This johnon.com blog was one of the blogs asked to review Platinax.
In the follow-up forum discussion, Brian says this about Platinax:
I personally consider Platinax a successful failure – it is successful because it is profitable, but a failure in that the key purpose of providing an authorative site of value for small business owners has largely gone unaccomplished.
Brain also says:
Aside from content changes, I also need to get the message out more as well and push on the networking – because I simply cannot make a real success of Platinax unless I succeed with the core aims.
I think Brian is thinking out loud now, and it’s good that he’s thinking, although it might be too soon to be making decisions. As a small business owner and 3x entrepreneur who likes to keep things on the small side, I see exactly the kind of progress coming out of this that is required for Platinax. And that might be exactly the content a business site like Platinax needs to cultivate. After all, it’s about building a small business (Platinax in this case) using the web (and ReviewMe in this instance). THAT is the conversation that I think should be continued in the Platinax forums. I can find information about small business blah blah blah just about everywhere I turn. Where can I participate in a discussion about using ReviewMe to develop a Small Business Website? One based on actual experience? Over at Platinax, if Brian keeps the conversation going.
I think a good way to see how feedback can help develop a business forum is to look at A Day in the Life of a Small Business Entrepreneur: me. Today I looked into PayCycle, the latest and greatest online payroll processor. I despise ADP, and have been very disappointed in PayChex, and they are both too expensive for what they offer, yet I am literally forced to use one of them (by law). Now I can chose PayCycle for a fraction of the cost of ADP or Paychex. PayCycle is award-winning, and well regarded so far. Funny thing, though: I discovered it by chance. I had not seen any discussion of it in my daily travels, and it’s been winning awards since 2006. Go figure. Where can I discuss that with peers whom I respect for their sensibilities and real world experience?
Later this morning I tracked down a freelancer I had lost contact with, but who had done stellar work for me in the past. Why was it so hard to find him? Lots of reasons, I suppose, but the time I spent tracking him down cost me more than the job I have for him. I’m no accountant, but that can’t be good for my bottom line. Another topic for a business forum that would make me take a second look, and might prompt me to participate.
I also re-evaluated my use of Basecamp at $50/month, because I also use ActiveCollab for several projects, an old version of PHP Workshop, Mantis, Contribute, and phpCollab. I like BaseCamp but need more. Do I keep BaseCamp and add Freshbooks? Do I keep FreshBooks and use ActiveCollab? I have time for a forum where the focus is on DOING BUSINESS and not using technology, but how many of those are there that include enough of the technology? I doubt I am alone in the way I do both, and still need to make sound, expedient business decisions. In fact I know that is where a good portion of my competitiveness comes from. I can make such decisions quickly and soundly, where others can either make them soundly or quickly, but not both at the same time. Where are the other people like me?
These are just a few real things I dealt with today. And I did real work, taught my kids to race popsicle sticks in the creek behind the house, ordered a new lamp, and signed tax documents. And I wrote this blog post. And if I can find my Platinax login details, I’ll join that conversation as well and see if there are others like me looking to stick to what matters when doing business as an independent entrepreneur online. (Seriously… managing all these “memberships” is a significant barrier to participation for me).
It’s not a successful failure, Brian. It’s a successful start-up. Now you need to let the market drive it, or drive it according to the market’s directions. I can see you’re listening, but are you listening?
Continue the conversation over there : http://www.platinax.co.uk/forum/5120-platinax-reviewed.html
Continuing on the concept of “advanced SEO“, I am today marveling at the collision of Apache web server and SEO. It is finally happening, and it is about time.
Continuing on the concept of SEOs Dealing in Minutia, I am also marveling at how this small problem with Apache has gone un-noticed for so long in SEO world.
First, let me say that Beverly Hills is a very nice place to live. Beverly-Hills is just as nice, and Beverly+Hills is even nicer. However, Beverly%20Hills is not quite as nice, although I certainly understand the urlencoding that led to the sub-standard living conditions. To be fair, Matt Cutts has said it’s better than Beverly_Hills, but my SEO senses tell me that, too is changing. Of course Beverly Hills and beverly Hills are the same, as are beverly Hills, and even the easily-parsed beverlyHills with or without proper Beverlyhills capitalizations. Oh if it were so easy. Too bad we can’t all live in easily-parsed locations like BeverlyHills, LaJolla, and NewYorkCity. We wouldn’t need fences. Life would be easy.
But the only reason those places are easily parsed is because they are space-separated place names in the corpus of information that is the index. The URL is the anomaly. Google needs the space-separated HTML out there in order to know that /beverlyhills/plasticsurgeons.html is semantically equivalent to /Beverly Hills/plastic surgeons. The first chicken was indeed born of an egg from other than a chicken. Check Darwin’s notes on that.
But as the advanced SEO positions his search engine friendly URLs in Beverly Hills neighborhoods, he runs into this recognized Apache bug, which reveals that Apache does some escaping of its own before the rewrite engine even gets the URL:
At the early beginning, when the internal request processing starts, apache unescapes the URL-path once. This is not done by mod_rewrite, this happens before mod_rewrite is involved and I think this is also a part of the security concept.
If you are using your rewrite rules in directory context, you have a filename (a physical path, e.g. /var/www/abc) while the per-dir prefix is stripped (so you’re matching only against the local path ‘abc’ if your rules are stored in /var/www/). How would you map some unescaped URL-path to the file system? There’s no way to make the unescaping process optional for a physical path in directory context.
This is not a show stopper. If you’re building front controllers you are capable of avoiding Apache’s rewrite altogether (and may now recognize this as a necessity), but it sure is inconvenient if you had planned out a site architecture with an eye on a nice, stable, data-driven virtual URL hierarchy using your own front controller in collaboration with Apache’s fast, integrated mod_rewrite.
The bug reports describe this in more detail, and show a few ways to work around the problem if you are so inclined to do so (that is, if you are so inclined to revisit your code once Apache gets pached again).
My point? This ain’t beginner-level SEO, friends. Pursuing Google-friendly URLs with a modern web infrastructure, and running into a bug in Apache? THE web server? And not just a bug, but one that demonstrates how Apache’s roots are in file systems, which we left behind a few years ago when we started using CMS’s and frameworks. If you’re moving a large dynamic site to a more “search engine friendly” site architecture with semantically useful URLs, you’re client just got a change order and a work authorization form. And the first order of business on that agenda is not working around the problem. It’s revisiting a cost-benefit analysis. If such an obstacle is too big for your SEO boots, what will you do? Settle for good-enough? I won’t. Certainly not in Beverly Hills.
In 2002 I implemented a method of statically caching a sitemap via use of a primitive front controller with hooks into Apache’s 404 handler. The goal was the same as it is today – user and search friendly URLs with no physical file system correlates, and fast, clean structure. I presented it to a technical audience in 2005, and was asked why it was necessary at all. Even now, 5 years later, working with frameworks and application programming languages far advanced from the old days of PHP3 and 4, we have the same problems: Google gives weight to things it can’t manage properly, and everything’s running on a web server built a long time ago when “things was different”. SEO is about optimizing content as published, so that it ranks in search engines. As long as the web keeps changing, and Google does or does not, SEO will be hard.
As far as the Apache/SEO collision thing, it’s not so much this bug as the source of it: Apache protects an underlying file system, and I just don’t have any need for a file system any more.
If you’re into the minutia, here are some links:
I recently referred to some aspects of SEO as “advanced SEO” and Jill Whalen commented that she didn’t think any SEO could be “advanced” SEO.
When I sit in a session at PubCon, the “SEO” panelists repeatedly say things like “you need to make your title tags unique” and “your non-www needs to 301 to your www” and I get so bored I choose to sit next to IncrediBill, just to keep things interesting. But when I work with SEO and AJAX, I get a headache from the depth of the challenge.
Is there such a thing as “Advanced SEO”? I think so, and I will go into more detail next week (I will also enhance my SEO AJAX blog post with more detail). In the mean time, what thinks you? Comments are enabled below.
[Update 4/6/07]: The noted artifact has been removed from the web page mentioned. I have no idea why.
Search marketing is an interesting field for sure. Everyday we get to spend up to half of our time learning, and it’s almost always goal-oriented learning. I find it immensely satisfying. Of course the more you learn about SEO and Search Marketing, the more you understand where the money is made, where the real opportunities are, and where the tin foil hat is required technical gear, like a good waterproof jacket when outdoors in the Pacific Northwest.
So when I was learning from the Marketing Experiments web site this morning, I started to wonder, why “Google”?
More specifically, I wonder why alt=”Google” on the burst icon for “Free A/B Split Testing Tool” in the upper left of this page?
Marketing Experiments offers an online course for optimizing landing pages, and the email promotion lands on this page here. On that page, the premier highlight is the upper left yellow burst, with the words “Free A/B Split Testing Tool“. Hover and you’ll see the ALT text for that image is “Google”. There is no anchor tag for the image, so no click thru.
So why “Google”?
A company that sells itself as an authority in optimizing landing pages, and even offers $595 online courses to teach you to build optimal landing pages, would surely have a purpose for the alt text assigned to the premier highlight on their own sign-up-for-our-course landing page, right?
Everyone who has been doing split testing over the past few years knows that Google has come out with an A/B split testing tool, Google Website Optimizer. It’s in beta but available, and “free” (that’s “free as in beer” when the hospitality suite requires an invitation and an RSVP with full disclosure of your personal details). Anyway Google’s A/B Split Testing Tool is free. Previously, real split testing tools cost money, and split testing is a service-oriented industry requiring experience and expertise. Google Optimizer has the potential to do to the commercial split testing tool market what Google Analytics did to the commercial analytics software market : scare it big time.
So why the “Google” alt text on the marketing Experiments landing page?
- nearby text association; a chance to get some alt text spam in there using the word “Google” (this is so small-time I don’t buy it)
- Marketing Experiments is actually giving you Google’s free optimizer as the “Free A/B Split Testing Tool” (seems equally oddball)
Google’s Website Optimizer was initially a tool for working with Google AdWords, but is now promoted as a full multivariate testing tool that will work alongside non-Google analytics software:
Website Optimizer, Google’s free multivariate testing application, helps online marketers increase visitor conversion rates and overall visitor satisfaction by continually testing different combinations of site content (text and images). Rather than sitting in a room and arguing over what will work better, you can save time and eliminate the guesswork by simply letting your visitors tell you what works best.
Free multivariate testing
Website Optimizer is a self-service application designed to give marketers full control over testing. Not only does Website Optimizer – integrated into AdWords – test messages on all site traffic (not just AdWords traffic), but it also works alongside Google Analytics and all third party site analytics packages.
I have no doubt Marketing Experiments is not scared by Google Website Optimizer. They sell services and training, and Google’s entry is likely to be very good for the market as it raises the bar for basic performance standards, and raises the profile of testing like almost no other company could do single handedly. Which makes me wonder even more, why alt=”Google”?
Everyone knows Google defines the web experience for Internet surfers today. Everyone also knows Google defined search relevance (the quality that determines which pages rank for specific Google searches) based on linking, such that web pages getting linked from other sites, on specific topics, earn relevance for that topic in the Google index. Alot has changed over the years, but Google still defines relevance, decides which pages rank at the top, and serves up the “winners” when consumers search the web.
That’s a zip code in the heart of Denver, Colorado. That search term (sans quotes) is a target for mortage companies in Denver Colorado especially because the two letters “co” represent CO, Colorado, County (there is a Denver County), and Company. I picked 80202 as one example of a central downtown Zip code… it could have been 80201, 80203, 80204, etc. You can see from the SERP highlighting that Google matches the CO on those appearances.
The page being served as the #1 result is a template page from TheDenverChannel, which is the website for Denver’s Channel 7 ABC affiliate. The Denver Channel premiers as a News channel website in Denver, Colorado. Next to Denver.org, it is arguably the most relevant website for the topic of DENVER COLORADO in the world. Given the update frequency of an ABC news affiliate website compared to a local government website (even an excellent one like Denver’s), it should certainly rank well for Denver searches as long as it publishes on local topics.
This post of mine should not be taken as a “spam report” or an “outing”. Any of that is collateral damage of the SEO discussion, and I am sure the Denver Channel can survive an SEO noting how some of it’s spammy MFA pages should not rank. I think the important thing to note is that Google directly benefits from this abuse of earned (and granted) page rank, via that AdSense monetization. With such an obvious abuse of “authority” by the ABC News website, Google is forced to acknowledge the conflict of interest OR do something about it. Otherwise, Google loses it’s authority (granted by the Internet-using public), and loses the faith of SEOs working hard for their clients. I can hear the white hats getting dirty as we recoil in disgust.
The listing that premiered on that spam page when I viewed it was “Cherry Creek Mortgage Company“, located in zip code 80202. But the spam page had no backlink to the Cherry Creek Mortgage Company website. A look at the Cherry Creek Mortgage Company website shows it to be a powerful “denver mortage” relevant website. Especially note the depth of this library of Denver mortgage resources on the site. Clearly these guys went the extra mile to rank, publishing tons of on-theme content. I don’t know these players so I am nofollowing here, to avoid an apearance of conflict of interest myself.
I didn’t look very hard but I didn’t see any AdSense on the Cherry Creek Mortage website. If those pages are so useful, why don’t they rank? If they had AdSense ads, would they rank? Google?
Local search is very interesting to both consumers and businesses, and represents a frontier in search not just because it’s a relatively untapped opportunity, but because it represents the ultimate challenge for search engines (and SEOs) to rank user-serving, quality local results. If the web finally becomes useful for “finding a local plumber”, the Internet will take another giant leap forward with small touchscreen devices showing up in every kitchen in America. I don’t think Cherry Creek Mortgage Company should have to publish a thousand “articles” of text on mortgage law and Denver neighborhoods in order to rank well for “denver mortgage brokers”, because there are not that many local brokerage outfits truly serving the Denver area. But if Google is going to start rewarding every super-category authority with sub-category relevance just because they syndicate business listings…. when they do no other work to make themselves relevant to the end user, well that really shows Google as the bad guy.
I know this might come across as just another rant about Google permitting MFA pages, but I think it’s a different case. The Denver Channel seems to have no purpose for those pages but to rank and monetize with AdSense; they are exploiting a solid earned authority for “Denver, Colorado” that is not likely to go away as they continue as an ABC News channel, and the user is not being served nearly as well as she might be by any number of more relevant contenders. If ABC News had even bothered to simply list morgage brokers in Denver I wouldn’t have commented. But they haven’t even done that much work.
Can SEOs working the local SERPs keep Google honest and deliver results for their clients (and web surfers), or will Google simply make it all irrelevant while it cashes out of the true “search” engine game?