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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June 29th, 2009 by john andrews

Video Captioning and YouTube

When I first wrote about how expensive search optimization (SEO) was getting due to the rapid rate of advancement of Google’s research and development, I was thinking forward. That was years ago. Good SEO requires hands-on research as well as futures research. Today, Google is so far ahead of the typical SEO practitioner that every day is a wake up call for any SEO who has not been seriously investing in SEO R&D for the past year at least.

Today Matt Cutts boasted of YouTube’s new video captioning. That’s SEO news.

Google added closed captioning to Google video long ago. Blogoscoped discussed it back in 2006. Google announced it had added closed captioning to YouTube in 2008. As Matt shows today, there is small red CC icon on the lower right of videos. Click that CC icon on a video that has captioning uploaded and viola…text captions!

Starting yesterday if your YouTube videos are captioned, you’re ahead of your competitors in the online marketing game because your content is being indexed, semantically analyzed, and of course indexed for relevance. And most importantly for SEOs, Matt Cutts cares about this.

If you have no idea how to add captions to your YouTube videos, then you just got a wake up call and a warning that your search marketing customers are about to ask why the hell you haven’t been doing that for them yet.

This is not another magical new invention, but it is an example of how Google drives the world forward with each innovation. Anyone who bothered to think about YouTube for Internet marketing 3 years ago would have predicted that YouTube would eventually be closed-captioned, not only because Google video was already closed-captioned, but because the law requires somelevel of accessibility and Google doesn’t like to be criticized.

And anyone who follows Google seriously would have recognized this future development hiding behind almost every seemingly-artificial Google discussion about indexing Flash content.Why was there never a reasonable answer provided for that obvious concern? Because there was an obvious answer, driving development efforts that were not quite ready for market. And coincidentally, the market is still not ready for video captioning!

The market for video captioning services is about to explode, as this professional service jumps from the relatively obscure disability community (where projects like MagPie have been funded by the Department of Education) into the mainstream, due to a renewed importance for marketing reasons.

Here is a list of video captioning resources for those who need to catch up (see the list behind the “Video Captioning Resources” tab at top).It includes a note that you can limit your YouTube search to only see closed captioned videos, but when I tried that this one came up first and no, for what may be obvious reasons, it is not captioned.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=81NeQJWGYJY]

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June 19th, 2009 by john andrews

Search Engines want to Eliminate Domain Names

Search engines want to eliminate domain names.

There, I said it (again). Anyone have any thoughts on this?

Years ago I said it out loud to several people at a meeting, repeated it in conversation many times at domain industry meetings and SEO conferences, and in a few venture capital/startup private meetings. I believe I slipped it in one of my search talks in 2008. To date, I have not enjoyed any good, serious debate about that inflammatory suggestion. A few people have disagreed. One scoffed at the thought with blithesome disregard. No good counter arguments or convincing support yet.

Search engines would love to see URLs come under their complete control, so they could eliminate them altogether.

Domain names have value right now. The traditional value is in direct navigation: the tendency of a fraction of the Internet using population to type into their browsers the URL of exactly where they want to go. Some people actually choose to go to Candy.com to look for an online candy store. Candy.com has a high value not because it is famous as an online candy store, but because of the value of direct navigation. One could easily sell candy on candy.com, goes the thought.

But domain names are also a depository for Internet market value. We call developed domain names “assets” because we have difficulty accounting for that stored value. Accounting methods allow for “intangible assets” such as “intellectual property” and “good will”. If you build a successful site, you do it on a domain. When the site is no longer active, the domain retains a significant amount of “stored value” from the previous market success.

Search engines want to take back that stored value, or perhaps keep it for themselves. On many fronts, the domain name is in the way.

I won’t go into much detail here, but if you look at the way search engines have been evolving, and some of the actions they have taken or tried to encourage, you see very little support for domain names. You see search engines creating mashups, extracting unique content from domains and serving it in a new context, associated topically or in some other channel separate from the domain name. You see search engines like Google stepping into the domain industry late (Google parking programs) but with power, forging “contract” relationships which took control of parked page profits. You see browsers built without “location bars”, forcing every user request through a search engine (Google’s Chrome eliminated direct navigation altogether). Every time I engage in futures research on the search marketplace, I am reminded of the problem the domain name presents to search engines. And that makes me think.

  • It reminds me that when traffic is the currency, Google and domain owners are competitors, not friends.
  • It reminds me that while branding is most easily accomplished with a good domain name, there are other ways to brand, and those other ways can be encouraged and supported by those who control traffic flow. Are search engines working on those more attractive alternatives? Consider Google Knoll, Google Profiles, Facebook, etc etc etc. Rather than brand the destination, why not brand the content or content creator, or better, the “authority”? People can find them through search engines.
  • It reminds me of how we as a society have (so far) neglected assigning the label “civil right” to Internet access.

Like everything else of value in our society, until we protect it with some basic tenets, it will be co-opted by commercial concerns (like search engines). Google censors the Internet now. So does Yahoo! and every other search engine, whether via algorithmic bias or intention.

We are still early in the evolution of this Internet thing, and there are still many reasons why domains are essential for the operation of the web and the success of search engines. Short term thinking shouts out reason after reason why it is ludicrous to think search engines want to eliminate domains from the web. They need them… domains are the fundamental basis for the Internet. The URL is *everything* — one could not even index content without URLs, which by the way have a canonical root that is the very definition of “domain”.

But it won’t always be that way, and there are many great reasons for eliminating domains. There is a lot of money tied up in the domain name, not only due to the nature of navigation (which we see can be co-opted),  but that pesky stored asset value. If only that could also be controlled or eliminated…

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June 11th, 2009 by john andrews

Top Ten Myths About Google Analytics – SEO Edition

I just read Google’s self-published “Top Ten Myths About Google Analytics” and I have to say, I thought Google had more integrity than this. Oh sure, everyone knows that marketing departments aren’t always 100% truthful about their claims. Everyone knows that the boastful pizza place in town that claims “World’s Best Pizza” isn’t, actually, the world’s best pizza. Even the Federal Trade Commission overlooks such claims as non-problematic because, well, you consumers should know better than believe that sort of hype.

But when Google publishes “Top Ten Myths” and stuffs it with I-won’t-believe-they’re-not-fake “myths” about their product, seemingly designed to highlight features they want to promote, I get this “ewwwww ick!” sensation. Seriously, if you work with GA or work with clients who use GA, what are the ten most popular misconceptions that come to your mind? Tell me if they include this one:

MYTH 8: Google Analytics does not support A/B or multivariate testing and isn’t well-integrated with other tools

I didn’t think so. Everyone who knows what A/B or multivariate testing is knows that Google provides a very good (but simplified) implementation. Those who don’t already know that are not likely to know what A/B testing or multivariate testing is, let alone wrongly assume that GA doesn’t have it. Is this really a “top ten misconception” or is this just inserted as an opportunity to pitch the product feature?

Take a look at this one of the Top Ten Myths claimed by Google:

MYTH 9: You can’t segment data in Google Analytics

Another one that seems to be an opportunistic insertion for awareness of a new feature of GA.. sort of like someone on the GA team said “hey we’ve been hyping this new segmentation all year but could use more hype..can you make it one of the Top Ten Myths?”

Another obvious feature promo disguised as a “myth” :

MYTH 5: It’s not possible to export your data from Google Analytics

The myth is debunked with what is basically a feature description suitable for a sales and marketing brochure for Google Analytics.

Since Google likes to cite the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) when warning publishers not to stretch their claims too far, and restrict use of the word “free” in ads and copy, I thought it important to highlight this odd behavior from Google. I also decided “hey, why not help them fix this sub-par publication, by telling them what the Top Ten Myths about Google Analytics really are!” The following are the Top Ten Myths about Google Analytics I witness them everyday with clients, search professionals, and search engine optimizers using GA (SEOs).

Note: Since I am not a Google insider, I didn’t “debunk” all of the myths, but I am hopeful that Google will clear up the remaining myths, to help set the record straight:

Top Ten Myths about Google Analytics, SEO Edition

1. Popular Myth: Google Analytics is FREE Software

Free Software is software which was designed not to be free of cost, but free of restrictive licensing. Free Software is able to be modified and changed by the end user, who may have good ideas for improving it in specific situations. Open Source software is often “free software”. By comparison, consider the phrase “free software” and “free as in beer”,  which is the free of cost kind of free.

Google Analytics is not “free software” because you cannot modify it at all. You are required to lace Google’s java script on your web pages, and cannot modify it in anyway even if doing so helps you sreamline your web publishing withoit impacting the performance of Google’s analytics software. As software goes, Google Analytics is not “free software”. In the next bullet point I address the “free as in beer” aspect of GA, because it is not free of cost, either.

2. Popular Myth: Google Analytics is Free of Cost (“free as in beer”)

Google says GA is “free”, but we all know that there is a cost to sharing confidential business data. When you run GA, you give Google immediate, real-time knowledge of your business activity. Sales up today? Selling more red than blue today? Google probably knows it before you do. When you consider that Google is also in the business of selling advertising based on keyword activity, and that Google sets it’s prices based on demand, you start to wonder just how “free” that Google Analytics really is. If you use Google Analytics, at the end of the year has your overall cost of doing business on the web increased to cover Google’s profits as well as the profits of the Google advertisers benefiting from your business data? Sure it has. So is Google Analytics really free?

There are other very significant costs to using Google Analytics. Before GA, I used ClickTracks.. an awesome piece of non-free (in any sense) software for which I paid about $1500 per year. After GA that company was sold, changed its business model, and the equivalent software from ClickTracks would now cost me about $12,000 per year. Is Google Analytics really “free”?

3. Popular Myth: Google Analytics is Confidential

Google gives you a private account, uses secure technologies, and says that it “restricts” access. But does that mean your information is confidential? Well, by signing up with Google Analytics you agree to a set of terms which strictly define the word “confidential” as follows:

“Confidential Information” includes any proprietary data and any other information disclosed by one party to the other in writing and marked “confidential” or disclosed orally and, within five business days, reduced to writing and marked “confidential”. Notwithstanding the foregoing, Confidential Information will not include any information that is or becomes known to the general public, which is already in the receiving party’s possession prior to disclosure by a party or which is independently developed by the receiving party without the use of Confidential Information. Neither party will use or disclose the other party’s Confidential Information without the other’s prior written consent except for the purpose of performing its obligations under this Agreement or if required by law, regulation or court order. In which case, the party being compelled to disclose Confidential Information will give the other party as much notice as is reasonably practicable prior to disclosing such information. Upon termination of this Agreement, the parties will promptly either return or destroy all Confidential Information and, upon request, provide written certification of such. You are responsible for safeguarding the confidentiality of Your password(s) and user name(s) issued to You by Google, and for any use or misuse of Your account resulting from any third party using a password or user name issued to You. You agree to immediately notify Google of any unauthorized use of Your account or any other breach of security known to You.

So no, unless it is marked “confidential”, your information is not confidential (got that?). Also note that data observed by Google via their script that you allow to watch your web visitors, is clearly NOT confidential (I am not a lawyer but it seems to be covered by that “will not include any information …which is independently developed by the receiving party without the use of Confidential Information” part).

This leads to a few additional common myths that Google really should answer on their “myth busting” page:

4. Popular Myth: Google uses its knowledge of your web visitors to advise its clients (which includes your competitors) on how to best advertise, manage their PPC bids, or otherwise market online

The truth of this myth is unknown.

5. Myth: Google uses your analytics data to improve its profitability in the markets Google competes in via the Google Affiliate Network

The truth of this myth is unknown.

6. Myth: Google uses your analytics data to assign risk factors to your web sites, which then influence your natural (organic) search rankings

The truth of this myth is unknown.

7. Myth: Google uses information from Google Analytics to determine your advertising costs (AdWords) and your share of advertising revenue (AdSense)

The truth of this myth is unknown.

8. Myth: Google is not your Competitor

This is a very popular myth, despite having been debunked numerous times. Google competes with you in online marketing (Google Affiliate Network, Google Checkout, Google Sponsored Links, Google AdSense, Google Blogs, Google images, etc etc etc) and Google competes with you in advertising (selling AdWords and publishing AdSense, for the tip of the iceburg). Google’s numerous invisible factors give it a significant competitive advantage (Quality Scores and the like used to set advertisings costs/payouts) separate from the additional knowledge you provide by using Google Analytics.

9. Myth: With Google Analytics, you don’t need Log Files

If you use Google Analytics, you should save your log files and consider using log file analysis to monitor Google’s performance. How else will you ever know if the core underlying basis of Google’s tracking system changes? Of course Google would love you to simply rely only on GA for tracking…. but is that reasonable? It’s not smart, and it’s not reasonable. BUT, can you afford to spend more money being careful and considerate if your competitors are not? This brings us back to the myth of GA bring “free”.. it is so not free.

Javascript-based tracking like GA uses is not the same as log-based tracking. The core definitions of “visitor” and “page view” are different. With GA, you allow Google to define the terms (and change them at any time). With log file analysis, you can run an analysis using one definition, and re-run the analysis under a different definition. With GA, Google decides which automated bots to exclude from analysis, how to count partial page views, how to handle proxies like those AOL uses, and a whole host of other factors which influence your statistics.  These uncertainties exist with all analytics programs, but with log files you have the raw data to utilize as you see fit, forever. With GA you are limited to what Google reports, at the time Google reports it to you.

10. Myth: Google Analytics has Goal Tracking

This one I added because I deal with it frequently. Google Analytics has up to 4 goals you can configure. Four..per domain profile. That is really helpful, certainly better than zero, but completely inadequate. A log file analysis solution provides an unlimited potential for goal tracking, for comparison. So, if you choose GA over a log-based analytics solution, you limit yourself to 4 goals. Relatively speaking, it’s  a myth.(Thanks to Demerzel in the comments for noting you can make up to 50 profiles to get up to 200 goals, if you are willing to manage it that way)

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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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