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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December 14th, 2007 by john andrews

Google Knol - Bestest Article Site EVER

Well, as soon as I rant-parodied Google’s ADWords program, comparing it to “black hat” SEO doorway pages of yesteryear, Google took the next step towards SEO/publisher disintermediation with the announcement of “Knol”, a spam article submission site. Gee, can you guess what Google will do next? Proxy page title elements in the index with “better ones”? Insert “tags” in-line with content to help align relevancy? Re-map the web so links better represent (expected) content relationships? Whatever… it seems Google wants to paint pretty pictures of its perfect world so everyone who doesn’t understand the web yet will commit their content to the Google revenue stream.

You have to hand it to Microsoft Google, though. Pre-announcing beta programs that admittedly might “never launch at all”, locking detail but heavy in presentation polish. A classic BigCompany intimidation move to deter investment in competition. Over the past year I enjoyed several very intelligent conversations with very smart people about how the wiki concept is the next thing after search engines. I haven’t agreed, but I was never the smartest guy in the discussion, either. Who would fund a startup wikipedia-like ’search engine” knowing Google is preparing this Knol thing? Ouch, that has got to hurt. Sub $1 million dollar private equity funders are not the bravest bunch, in my experience.

As TrustRank (the Google version, not the Yahoo! version) takes hold as the #1 or #2 ranking factor for SEO, this Knol thing steps in and bingo… who could be more trusted than Google itself? As many have highlighted, it’s not easy to manage a content site, so we can’t be sure but if Google achieves what it showed as it’s “sample” (an insomnia article from a Standford physician). If Google did gain acceptance as “the” place to willing contribute (for free) branded authoritative content like that, we’re looking at pretty serious manipulation of free public access to information. There is no way entire industries like, for example, “academia” will freely contribute to Google’s “free” content aggregation site without significant guaranteed benefits for the long haul. Let one of those uncertified, foreign-trained medical experts supporting Wikipedia write a competing article of equal or better quality, sans the American politics, and see what happens. Is Google up to the task of disrupting everything at the same time?

I liked Mahola for one thing only - watching them launch articles was like watching an affiliate marketer prioritize his work flow. Biggest money makers first, then next, then next on down the line. I have pointed several newbie SEOs to Mahaloo for just that reason — look at what they target and you’ve got today’s most profitable keyword niches. What will Google publish after Insomnia? Accident Lawyers in Phoenix? Wrinkle reduction in Los Angeles? Or how about one of those too-perfect San Diego cosmetic surgeons writing an authoritative article on Botox for Crow’s feet? Of course we’ll see solar power and such, too.

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December 13th, 2007 by john andrews

Google goes Black Hat with Doorway Page Program

Google says this, Google says that, blah blah blah. And as Google rakes in billions and dominates search, who am I to question Google’s motives? Obviously it is all about money.

But not “little money”. Big money. Serious money. A few hundred per day from everyone marketing products on the Internet. And since we all know doorway pages are the defacto standard for capturing an audience’s attention (they work, consumers like them, they are affordable and flexible), is it any wonder that Google has reserved the right to use doorway pages exclusively for itself, threatening to ban any one else deploying this very effective Internet marketing tactic?

Google’s Doorway Program is called “Pay Per Click” and you literally pay per click. Just as you do when you build your doorway pages for Microsoft’s search product of the month, you will need a keyword list for use with Google’s doorway system. For each targeted keyword, you tell Google what you want your doorway page to say, and where you want the traffic to click through to. Google does the rest. But unlike Live.com search, where you need to publish your doorway pages and get them indexed to rank properly for the target search terms, Google displays your doorway message and link URL right on the SERP for the target search phrase. It doesn’t get any easier than that!

Need to roll out 10,000 doorway pages on MSN? It might take 2 days to do all that! But with Google, you just upload 500 or so keywords, tell it to munge them into 10,000 related and associated keywords and phrases, and put in your cousin’s credit card. For hundreds of dollars per day, you’re rolling in the SERPs.

Seriously, folks. At $300/day that’s a $10k per month SEO spend… just about right. And of course we all know that those ethical SEO snakes have ways of monetizing those doorways beynd the obvious client benefit. They put back links on them to support their own SEO businesses, they sometimes skim the traffic, and they watch the click stream for competitive intel they might be able to use elsewhere. Just. Like. Google.

The next time you client says “we rank for blue widget replacement parts but we should also rank for blue widget repairs and blue widget parts just tell them they need a few more doorway pages. And of course offer to build them for less than a few dollars per day per page. And watch them decide instead to buy the keywords on PayPerClick. And then wait for them to come back in a few months, broke, asking for discounted SEO services because they are on last legs and need to try anything to survive.

What do I want for Christmas this year? A competitive search engine to rival Google. I don’t care what comes from that wish as long as it includes change.

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December 13th, 2007 by john andrews

More Canon Camera Problems: The Future is Bright for Reputation Management and PR

I have discovered that many of us web people are camera buffs as well. In the prosumer digital SLR market, there is little competition for Canon, just as here is little competition for Google in the search market. Nikon is the Yahoo!, with a loyal but shrinking following. The different between search and SLRs, however, is substantial. Searchers can switch engines in a New York Minute. Digital SLR users typically have invested substantially in their glass: the lenses cost much more than the cameras. It is not unusual for a digital SLR owner to have one or two $2000 bodies and $20,000 in dedicated glass lenses that only fit that model of camera.

Which is why reputation problems should be considered important. The more “bad things” I read about Canon, the less likely I am (as a consumer) to invest in Canon. That sort of brand-loyalty-backed-by-sunk-cost-fears is the only thing that kept Nikon alive for so long. And now Canon doesn’t seem to care.

This is the second bad experience I’ve had with Canon products needing repair, and my needing to interface with Canon’s repair services. In this case my 3 year old lens was driven to stuck-ness by either the circuitry in the lens or the circuitry in the camera. Canon doesn’t care — it just wants a $138 repair fee to fix it with a 90 day warranty on the repair. There is no physical way for me or gravity to drive the lens aperture beyond its smallest position, jamming the fins into permanent disability. It had to be the camera or the lens ciruitry. What if it is the camera? Am I putting my $1600 lenses at risk attaching them to the same camera now? And what about that broken lens. Since when does a $600 lens last less than 3 years? Welcome to today’s digital SLR market, and another near monopoly.

But my professional concern is Canon’s disregard for the impact this has on the market. When my Optura digital camcorder failed with repeated “remove cassette” errors, and refused to read used tapes, I checked the Internet and found *thousands* of reports of this problem. I even found detailed descriptions of the cause, going back several products in the Optura line. But Canon refused to address the issue without a >$200 pre-payment for repair. A barely-used $1100 camcorder, needing a $200 repair. And guess what? Less than 4 months after repair, the same problem started again and of course I went out and bought a non-Canon camcorder instead of dealing with the aggravation. And I blogged about it. And I will never forget it, especially now as my SLR lenses encounter “difficulties”.

Reputation management is not what those lawyers on the speaking panel at Pubcon say it is - a legal issue to be addressed. It is a market issue, and it is not going away. As long as the only recourse is “bitch about it publically on a blog”, Canon will suffer. With blogging more accessible to the public every day, this will only get worse. I can’t imagine prosumer level digital SLR technology becoming “throw away” because it is limited by the basic physics of light… and pushing that technology forward requires the substantial money Canon has been collecting from people like me who are willing to pay for performance. No longer. What will happen? That’s right… the market will collapse instead of advancing, and we’ll be at the mercy of things like space agency funding for our technology advances outside the “more megapixels is better” home snapshot market.

Dumbasses. They had such a good thing going.

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