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
February 29th, 2008 by john andrews

Trusting WordPress Plugins and “SEO for WordPress”

Over here in John Andrews Land we fight the status quo. WordPress is great, and the plug-in architecture is great, but we don’t build businesses on free, open source code unless we trust it. And we don’t trust free, open source code unless we have checked it. And we don’t rely upon free, open source WordPress plugins unless we know we have taken appropriate risk-management steps, addressing what we consider to be typical concerns when dealing with software, but which the modern world seems to think are optional:

  • does the code conform to programming best practices? At least a little?
  • does the code include obvious or less-than-obvious security flaws?
  • does the plugin abide by the rules to help support the idea of upgrade? Will WordPress break when next upgraded?
  • does the plug in warrant a plug-in? Maybe it doesn’t do enough to be worth the risk?
  • is the WordPress plugin “phoning home”, sending business intelligence to the plugin owner, or otherwise exposing us to unexpected consequences of use, such as hidden links or cloaking?

It sure costs more to do things right, but it sure costs a lot to fix problems in real time, too. Which is your preference?

We can’t check all of WordPress. We rely on that large community of eyeballs looking at it for months prior to release, and the even larger community of eyeballs looking at it during the months after release, to help make sure it is worthy. That’s how Open Source works. But that is NOT the case for plugins. A plugin author may never share his code until publication time. Many plug-ins see very few installs compared to large open source projects. Even 1,000 users will not lead to good code if that is 1,000 non-programmer users (common with WordPress plugins). We look at plugin code very carefully.

This morning I reviewed another plugin from a well-respected SEO plugin author, and there in the code are all sorts of “potential problems“. All around the web you read “you should have this plugin for SEO” and yet, a quick review by my far-less-than-professional PHP coding eyes shows divide by zero gotchas, opportunity for injections by hackers, and risky reliance on system variables that are not as genuine as the PHP manual might suggest. This isn’t rocket science, but it is web programming, and we’re talking about the basics of web application programming in PHP here. i don’t need to send this one to a php security expert. I know it’s dead just by looking at the code myself.

What is the cost of a bad plugin? Well, you may not care if one day your visitors see a PHP error on the screen. You may even have error reporting turned off completely. You can get problems fixed in a day or so anyway, so no harm done, eh? Well, when was the last time you looked at what is in your WordPress database? I mean looked at the content in the database… using some database tool. Time and again I find volumes of bad data filling WordPress databases, which are hidden from the blogger because WordPress is smart enough to skip over them at display time. But they are still there… and with every upgrade, they carry forward. And one day the database tables break. Or some injected code gets run. What. A. Mess. Or WAM v2.0

A good SEO consultant charges in excess of $200 per hour for routine technical work, as does a good PHP security consultant. That reflects the cost of maintaining the ability to perform as a knowledgable consultant. It takes time to audit code, but not a lot of time, especially when compared to what it takes to rebuild a database that has been corrupted with invalid characters or mussed-up attempted code injections. Unless your risk management plan includes “just start over”, it seems wise to spend a little money and get your site checked out before there are problems.

Not every “SEO plug in for WordPress” is a must-have, and some are not even worthy of the time it takes to download them. How do you know?

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February 26th, 2008 by john andrews

Shaking Out the Bad Websites in Google

Everyone is talking about Google’s PPC click thru rate being lower than expected… flat growth for January according to Comscore. I think there’s astory in there about reliance on Comscore-like reports, but that will be addressed soon enough. Perhaps a more interesting story is suggested by this comment from a pro-Google investment entity, as cited by AlleyInsider:

In our view, efforts by GOOG to improve search quality and make online retail a more efficient experience for consumers will deflate paid clicks and inflate price-per-click. As long as lower volume continues to come with higher pricing (as it did in Q4), we are not concerned with GOOG’s ability to grow revenue.

Sort through SEO leads these days and you find site after site that is not able to convert incoming paid traffic. For these business owners, PPC is over. Money flying out the window to Google for PPC ads that bring traffic that does not convert into revenue. These owners moved into Google’s ad program to get traffic, but that “just signup and get traffic” do-it-your approach is just a small piece of the pie. If the site isn’t prepared to convert that traffic into sales, Google gets rich and the ad buyer fails (and scrambles to get some SEO to “get me free traffic from search optimization”). And if the owner isn’t savvy enough to manage the PPC spend in light of competitive pressures, it can be a fast budget drain.

The above comment suggests that Google is going after the revenues on the high end, and shouldn’t care about that low-end where the ad buyers fail to monetize. As click prices increase, presumably because of “quality scores” reflecting that traffic is converting when delivered to the right place, those poor quality sites are filtered out via market economics. Overall clicks go down, as revenues ramin strong or perhaps grow. Sounds great for Google.

But I don’t agree that SERP quality tracks that shake-out, because there are so many good sites that are unable to convert. Those sites represent quality “answers” to Google queries, even if they have not been designed to sell anything or designed to enable conversion tracking. Let’s not forget Google bases it’s judgement of quality on factors it has access to, not magic or divine knowledge of the truth.

Google needs to maintain SERP quality, yes, but that equates to making sure the organic results are high quality as well (or perhaps even especially). Which means reward relevance with rankings. Yes… improve search quality, but more free organic traffic. That’s Google giving away traffic it was passing through (low quality?) PPC ads. if the publishers are disappointed in Google’s ad payouts (due to low quality scores etc), but now they are getting free organic traffic, how does that help Google’s revenues?

Google chose to play both sides of the buy/sell ad game, so Google has to manage customer expectations on three fronts: searcher, ad buyer, and ad publisher. At best Google helps everyone find their way to a piece of the pie. At worst, everyone hates Google. Which one is better for revenues?

When a former Google customer (someone who has quit AdWords out of disgust) asks an SEO to help “get free search traffic from Google” it represents a person who is no longer willing or able to play by the established rules.  It’s not a sign of criminal intent, mind you, so don’t go hyperbolic on me with the BlackHat WhiteHat stuff. But from a demeanor persepctive, that former customer is willing to try things outside of the “let’s do business together” avenue, without telling Google, and recognizing that he is now in competition with Google, his former business partner.

Again, how is that good for Google’s revenues?

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February 25th, 2008 by john andrews

Live Blogging the Moniker Domain Auction

This post will be a live blog, updated every few minutes with additional content as we go… just for fun. AffiliateSummit 2008 in Las Vegas.

Monte has done his homework, and is prodding the audience with insider knowledge of the affiliate game as he can. had little interest, and Monte started chiding the “ticket affiliates” for not considering the potential for that domain. He was right, but it didn’t sell.

Real Estate name at $1,750 .. SOLD for $2,250. Again, not a bad sale for the seller. is now at $85k having been bid to $75 but that wasn’t enough to cover the reserve. Now… $15,000 in the room..didn’t sell. auctioneer says it’s a GREAT name, but I don’t see it. $1750 SOLD on the Internet. thrid and final call for $3000 not sold. is up. Again, I don’t see the value but I am not in that market (whatever market that is)… someone likes it for $3500 didn’t sell.… starts at $500 in the room, sold for $1,750. Again, a nice return for the registrant if obtained at reg fee. went for $1000 – another one I don’t get. is at $1,250 already…now $1,500 via Internet. SOLD. Someone wanted it. is an obvious paid inclusion directory domain. Bid up $600 and SOLD. is interesting.. gets 95,000 uniques per year and earns $21,000 per year in affiliate income. I’m guessing that is as a parked page, because that is WAY low for affiliate incom ein the adult market. Closed bidding at $150,000 because the reserve was up around $175,000. is a pretty domain.. now at $165,000… $180,000 comes in from Internet…SOLD for $180,000. I look forwards to seeing what goes up there or if it was to hold as an asset. is up.. that’s a generic and probably pretty good. What’s it worth at an affiliate auction? At $1,750 already, now $2750. Up to $4k already. Very fast bidding… thi smust be a CJ match (haha). At $5,250 and $5,500… not sur eI’d go that high. Someone wants it at $6,250 and “the Internet” like sit at $6500…. wow.. at $8,000 (that’s a lot of candles). Would you believe $9,250? hpw about SOLD for $22,000. Wow. is another good directory name, SOLD for $5,500. I think that’s a pretty high price for an affiliate name, so I’d gues sit’s a generic plural being bought as a domain asset. didn’t sell with a $6,000 bid and neither did at $15,000. It’s 4:30 and the crowd in the back has thinned considerably. I count 54 people in the room at this point.

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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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