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?

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November 28th, 2007 by john andrews

Shhh.. It’s Not Advertising, It’s Wikipedia!

Shall we wait another quarter to start introducing yet more advertising on the web, or can we slip it in now? We’ve barely gotten past the “paid links are evil” debates. PayperPost is not completely dead yet, and TLA and it’s sister companies are still alive. But since there is really no other way for the commercial web to grow than to allow sponsorships, paid promotions, and “advertising”, I suppose we can just push forward again. Maybe, just maybe, people are busy enough that they (finally) won’t complain as advertorial replaces content (?).

So this is now content, even though the publisher is a PR agency paid by the client running the promotion, the post links out liberally and directly, and everything is disclosed somewhere in the fine print. Sphinn it even, because it’s content, right? (There I go making friends again). But seriously, all the banter about paid links and sponsorship needs to go away. But as long as Google’s actions (supported by certain public voices in the industry) actually harm people’s businesses, there will not be any end to the debate. If it’s about selling page rank, then make that clear. If it’s about sponsored posts, make that clear. If it’s about nofollow, then go ahead and enforce nofollow. Once everyone is freed from the shackles of Google paranoia, they will promote when they are enticed to promote, and limit their contributions to meaningful input otherwise. It’s the natural law of conservation of energy (greed plus laziness). Let it happen! It will be good!

I would like to propose an algorithmic solution to Google’s paid links problem, at least for the specific case of blog comments. It’s simple. Study the text of the blog comment, and flag it in a binary fashion as either completely positive, upbeat, and complimentary, or not. Then weigh it accordingly in the Google ranking algorithm. If it is like this:

“great post, great article. That (seminar/ebook/list) will surely help me succeed. Good stuff I can use! Thanks!”

then it is obviously spam and any associated link needs to be ignored. If it is anything else, allow it. See how it works? If you are a friend, you won’t say anything negative in the comments. But if you know that saying something positive will result in no-link-for-you, you probably won’t bother writing a comment. And if you actually have something useful to add to the conversation, you won’t care about the back link and probably won’t care too much about “being friendly” either. With tuning, this algorithm could actually flag this as spam:

“Nice find, Lee. I know it’s promotional for your client, but it’s good to know about and people will want to attend.”

which is good. That comment is follow-on promotional. Sure it’s eligible to be published on the web like everything else, but any associated back link needs to be removed from the “trust” equations as long as those trust equations are being used to squash competitors and destroy valid commercial endeavors around the world. This comment was just a friend helping out a friend, right? Maybe one of those “strategic alliances”? That’s fine, but Google, don’t credit that link if you’re discrediting other links as “paid”.

In time this new micro-algorithm might even be able to recognize this as worthy of credit:

“Sorry Lee, but this is such a promotonal piece I have to de-sphinn it.”

Keep that link, for that is a valid comment, and contributes to the health of the web. It’s clearly not positive, and not likely to strengthen any friendships. Why else would anyone have posted that, except to make a statement? Credit that gal with a back link for her courage!

Now back to wikipedia. I’m a big fan of several of the “back to Mine” groove CDs, having appreciated them since the dawn of the Back-to-Mine concept many years ago. I was exploring drum & bass in the clubs of Vancouver, experiencing what became “vibe” and “groove” and “chill” when I discovered asian underground and my first Back To Mine collections. I want to bring some to Vegas so when I go “back to mine” at the Hilton I can chill the way I like to (maybe sans friends after this post!). So I Googled Back to Mine. Number one is the publisher and #2 is this wikipedia advertisement. Nicely done. A full page promoting the Back To Mine series of CDs, with all collection covers neatly displayed along with the artists and links to their pages. The text cites the history, the company behind the label, and links to the vendor website backtomine.com. This is modern day Internet advertising and promotion. And because it ranks at the top of Google, it is search marketing very well done. Likely fan-generated, requiring just a touch of polish once in a while from a PR person. Google does the rest.

Woven throughout wikipedia are pages promoting the artists and their CDs, all reminiscent of what BillBoard or Motown was publishing back in the day (cover art, artist bios, stories, poetry… all added value for consumer of published music). Here’s one of my favorites — Orbital’s Back To Mine CD. UnderWorld is another favorite, as is Talvin Singh, although it seems Talvin isn’t on anyones promotion list these days. No external links and not very well written copy.

Google ranks wikipedia well almost universally, and more and more wikipedia is the new promotional spam of the web. Could it evolve any other way?

Update: For those interested in the music, none of which is linked by wikipedia, check these out:

  • Tabla Beat Science (mp3) defined some of asian underground genre initially http://www.uprisemgt.com/artists/tbs/media/tabla_beat_science_palmistry.mp3
  • Outcaste is a good place to explore the current and past world of British/Asian fusion (use IE).  Try Badmarsh&Shri’s Signs if this is your first exposure.
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November 23rd, 2007 by john andrews

Basecamp Doesn’t need My Business

I have been using BaseCamp for a handful of smaller projects during the past year. At $49/month for secure access, it has been very convenient but borderline productive. I like to stay informed about emerging technology, and while I use ActiveCollab for hosted projects, BaseCamp has been super easy for smaller clients and low-activity, longer term relationships (where information might be archived for a long time, accesses infrequent but by different people, etc).

Last week while traveling I misplaced my primary business credit card. Rather than worry about it, I stopped into the nearest bank branch and reported it lost, requesting a replacement. No worries… 6-10 days in the mail. A few days later my Basecamp subscription tried to renew itself. Oops. Invalid credit card. I received this notice:

Hi John- We just tried to process your monthly Basecamp Plus subscription for $49, but your credit card (xxxx-xxxx-xxxx-XXXX) transaction was declined.

The reason given for the declined transaction was: “The payment could not be captured: This transaction has been declined”

HERE’S WHAT HAPPENS NEXT
First, you and your clients will still have access to Basecamp for the next 6 days so you’ll have time to update your card information.

UPDATE YOUR CARD
You can update your credit card info or enter a brand new card at: https://XXXXXXX

WE’LL TRY AGAIN IN 3 DAYS
We’ll try to charge your card again in 3 days. If it fails to go through again, we’ll try once more 3 days later. If it fails that time, your account will be frozen until you log in and enter a valid card.

NEED TO CANCEL YOUR ACCOUNT?
If you wish to cancel your Basecamp account, log in to: https://XXXXXXXX Then scroll down to the “Need to cancel your account?” section. Next click the “Please cancel my account” link. Once you cancel you won’t be charged again.

If you have any questions, please email us at support@basecampHQ.com

So I replied to the email address they provided, explaining that 3 days was not long enough to replace the card:

Hi guys.

My cc was stolen and I processed a request for a new one tuesday (7-10 days to get it). You have a 6 day policy… that won’t work for me. Is it a firm policy? I could use another card if necessary but that messes up the business books so I figured I’d ask. Otherwise I’ve been happy with the service.

-=john

Now I could go use another card, but in this case it would be a personal card or a card assigned to a different business. I’ve been a customer for almost a year, why shouldn’t I get a few days to replace the card? Anyway, I never got a response and on the 3rd day I got another warning and on the 6th day god froze my account:

Hi John-

IMPORTANT NOTICE
We’ve sent you two emails, and given you 6 days to update your credit card information, but unfortunately your card is still being declined.

YOUR ACCOUNT IS TEMPORARILY FROZEN
Your account has been frozen until you can provide a valid credit card number.

NOW WHAT?
Next time you login, you will be prompted to enter the new card. Every one else will be denied access to the system until this has been done.

So, I entered a personal credit card, reactivated my account, and will now transition away from Basecamp completely.

What was the final straw? No response to my email. Freezing my account including access by others. Imposing a 3 day waiting period for a credit card update. All careless, “I don’t need your business” decisions from the “BaseCamp Team”.

Time to move on. ActiveCollab has been great and very easy. Time to leave Basecamp to the corporate people.

Resources: Basecamp, ProjectPier, DotProject (a One-Click-Install on Dreamhost), ActiveCollab

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November 17th, 2007 by john andrews

PubCon Las Vegas: Yes or No?

It’s time to talk about yet another seo conference: PubCon Las Vegas. Yet another week of travel. Yet another chance to open the overnight bag and remove the laptop, remove the little plastic bag with shampoo and shaving cream, and remove my shoes so I can shuffle through airport security in my socks (ever notice how filthy that carpet is?). Yet another sterile hotel room. Yet another “opportunity” to eat way-too-large restaurant servings and get way-too-little exercise. Here in the Pacific Northwest we define “exercise” as getting outside in the rain and wind and sun and sea breeze/mountain air, not “climb onto the exercycle in the air-conditioned hotel weight room and watch TV while sweating”. Can you tell I am weary of travel ?

Yet that is what this is… with SES, SMX, several related industry events and now PubCon, we need to seriously consider whether all this travel is worthwhile or an effective use of time. So let’s take a look at PubCon Las Vegas:

  • traditionally an SEO/SEM conference heavy on web entrepreneurship (lots of independent operators)
  • a very serious annual get-together for many experienced players in the SEO space (at the bars, not at the sessions. Many don’t even register for PubCon). Would I be invited or even aware of these gatherings?
  • bigger every year, to thousands in attendance this year (how’s that Friday Pub thing going to work with thousands of attendees?)
  • billed as “the affordable conference” , it’s still $900 registration fee, r/t airfare, and 5 days hotel and food/drinks. When you add it up, that “affordable” reg fee represents less than 20% of the total out of pocket expenses for attending

As an independent consultant, I haven’t gotten business from past PubCons. That doesn’t mean they weren’t fun or interesting, and of course PubCon represents another chance to see people from other cities. But if you don’t generate business, is it worth the cost? Remember for me it’s not about “I met so-and-so and the one tip she gave me was more more than my expenses” because I’ve already been to SES/SMX and several related conferences this year, and I interact with lots of these people behind the scenes every day.

PubCon has similar sessions to SES and SMX, although mouch more from the look of the agenda. However, they run concurrent tracks so you trade variety for accessibility. You can still only attend what you have time to attend.

Similar speakers to SES and SMX. I don’t frequent WebMasterWorld so I probably don’t appreciate the opportunity to meet the players behind the handles as much as others might.

Help me out here… why drop another 2-3 grand to attend PubCon Las Vegas this year?

Update: Looking at the PubCon agenda pages, I don’t see any Google party? I don’t see a Yahoo! party, but Yahoo! is a premium sponsor? What about MSN? I don’t see any vendor parties listed at th ePubcon site… seems odd, no? There is an SEOMoz thing, but it is listed as “unofficial” (?) and overlaps the Google “meet the engineers” thing. There was an SEOMoz party at SMX. At SES, there were a few web pages dedicated to party activity. At SMX there was a “networking” section to the website showing events and parties. At Ad:Tech NYC there was a vendor party section, with plenty of activity. Also, I see that there is a “Friday pub” pass available cheap… which means what, exactly? I always thought the Friday pub thing was “exclusive” to conference attendees. Not like there’s any shortage of things to do in Vegas, but surely there are vendor activities other than what is apparent?

Resource: There is a Search Conference Website up, but it isn’t very active yet. Perhaps it is worthy of participation by those looking to plan their conference activities?

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