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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July 30th, 2009 by john andrews

Google Loves Brands in a Hard-Coded Way?

I like to burn high quality Japanese incense while I work. It’s relaxing but at the same time I maintain more focus when I burn a stick or two of my favorite incense. It sets a mood, and keeps me on task. But this addiction presents a few problems, because my typical American neighbor does not buy Japanese incense, so the stores don’t carry it. I buy incense online.

And while buying incense online today, I discovered an SEO oddity.

Using IE8 I googled “Japanese incense” and I got a search results set that included just one website (Shoyeido, the defining brand in the marketplace), surrounded by ads, shopping results, and related searches.  Nary a wikipedia page in site. No other sites at all, actually. Just the Big Brand, plus the ads.

I’ll post a screen cap later, if helpful. I saved all of the screens mentioned in this post.

Confused, I checked the settings and no ad blockers, js was on, etc. Everything seemed normal. I don’t use IE much, so no plugins or toolbars in the way. Odd.

I did the same search in Chrome and saw a more typical Google results set. Shoyeido at the top of the organic results, with the ads and shopping results mixed into a typical Universal Search results page. And of course all the exact match domains, a supplier in San Francisco I will investigate later, and Nippon, the company that made Esteban’s incense.

I did the search in Firefox and also saw the more traditional results set, with one exception. No sidebar ads. No ads at all, in fact. Hmmm.

What’s going on here? How did Shoyeido.com, the defining brand in the incense marketplace,  get into that result set when no other organic search result was able to appear (for whatever reason)?

Was there a glitch in the matrix? Does that glitch suggest that the BigBranded default #1 result is hard-wired somehow into the SERP, separate from the probably temporarily broken way the rest of the organic results get loaded up?

I’m curious.What’s going on here?

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July 29th, 2009 by john andrews

Hitwise: Can You Trust Hitwise?

As a truly independent search marketing consultant I frequently encounter the “bigger is better” syndrome. A potential client, not sure whom to trust, decides that a cheap, starter package from BigCompany is a safer way to get started in search marketing than working with an independent search consultant. I call it a syndrome because a syndrome is a “collection of symptoms” and that is what I see — hesitance & uncertainty followed by a wasteful commitment of resources to a typically minimal value effort from a “trusted” Big Brand.

Hitwise is one of those Big Brands… they sell expensive products that promise deep insights into search marketing. Do they deliver? I have a better question than that. Can you trust them?

Last week Aaron Wall of SEOBook.com published a link growth chart. It was didactic — meant as a teaching tool. He didn’t produce actual data to accompany the chart, and he didn’t claim actual data was behind the graph. Behind the scenes I spoke with Aaron at that time,  on a technical issue related to geometric progression and the exponential function. Aaron adjusted his graph and language to make better use of “geometric”, instead of “logarithmic”. The initial comment on that post still mentions a “logarithmic link growth curve” but subsequent comments properly address it as the updated chart shows: geometric.

Hitwise charts

If a research company like Hitwise was to produce a not-free white paper or webinar on search marketing, for its paying customers, you would expect them to do some work. Check their facts. Actually know something about the topic. Well, it seems Hitwise did produce a report a few days ago.. on link growth profiles. In that report they reproduced Aaron’s chart, adding captions describing how Google detects link profiles, and “penalises” sites. I didn’t see the full presentation, but only the slide that shows the graph and the accompanying claims, and a comment admitting to their adoption of Aaron’s chart as their own.

They, too don’t mention if the chart is based on real data or not. They don’t even mention that it came from SEOBook.com. In fact, the image clearly shows they removed the SEOBook logo, and patched up the chart lines where the logo was positioned. Aaron outlines their unauthorized use and the obvious removal of the SEOBook logo in a follow up post on his blog, where Hitwise also commented.

It’s a shame they stole someone else’s chart and offered it to their paying customers as their own, but they also referred to the optimal link growth profile as “Logarithmic / Geometric“, which I consider the most revealing aspect of this Hitwise rip off. Not only didn’t they know what to make of the difference between the chart’s use of “geometric” and the comment streams use of “logarithmic” as an equivalent term, they didn’t even research it to clarify. I doubt they understand the difference even to this day, or that there is a difference. The most disturbing part of all, may be the “Hitwise Client Commitment” published on their website:

Clients will experience the highest levels of integrity, ethics and respect at all times from all Hitwise employees.

Can you trust Hitwise? Should you? They had a chance to comment on the SEOBook blog, and this is what they said:

Hi,
I was part of a webinar that Hitwise Search ran yesterday . Firstly, apologies for not sourcing and attributing the SEOBook chart that we used in the presentation.

This was an oversight and we have taken measures to prevent this from happening again. We’ve committed to re-recording the webinar with the proper attribution and other courses of action to help rectify this error with SEOBook. It’s a great site for Search professionals to refer to – very useful and enjoyable to use.

Again this should have been properly attributed and I hope that people and SEO Book accept our sincere apology and trust that we take this matter seriously and are doing everything we can to put it right.

Stuart McKeown

Hitwise press releases identify Stuart McKeown as Product Director for Search Marketing Services at Hitwise. He’s the guy directing the search marketing offerings. Several subsequent comments from others highlight that such a “we got caught, we’re sorry, we’ve fixed the problem” is not enough. I can certainly see how someone might make a bad decision while preparing a presentation, and how Stuart  might jump in to apologize quickly, perhaps not putting adequate care into his comment. However, I just can’t get past the research aspects.

Does Stuart McKeown know what a natural link profile should look like? Do his search marketing experts? He’s responsible for teaching his paying clients about search marketing. Does he know what “geometric” means? Logarithmic? To put it into perspective, a link builder looking to achieve a geometric growth profile might double or triple his productivity every month. Were she to desire a “logarithmic” profile, she’d need to multiply her productivity month over month (1000 this month, 100,000 next month? A few million links the month after that?)

What about the validity of that graph? There is no data, and no mention of data, but I would bet that paying Hitwise customers assumed that Hitwise had done research to produce that chart. Data, behind the data points, not just made-up data intended to teach. I have no idea what data (if any) Arron Wall used to make that chart… in context as it was presented on SEOBook I had no such concerns. It was obviously intended to teach, and based on experience. It was not sold as a research report.

I have to question the other assertions from the experts at Hitwise. Can Google really detect unnatural link profiles, such as those from Social Media or linear link building? Does Google really penalise sites based on trust from this?

Bottom line: be careful whom you trust, especially if it is Hitwise. Bigger is not better. Bigger is not a better value. And bigger should certainly not be more trusted, absent any other evidence. Hitwise is owned by Experian, that big consumer credit card data aggregator with the big government contracts. Scary stuff.

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July 24th, 2009 by john andrews

Combat Training for Social Media Marketers

I spent a few years involved with cardiothoracic surgery. Thoracic means “chest”. Think open heart surgery, bypass machines, and “sucking chest wounds”. Seriously.  As a Biomedical Engineer, I worked with some very innovative and entrepreneurial people. If you dig you can find my name on some cardiothoracic research. You may also discover that it was important research. Or you might discover some concern (please notice they describe that complication as “rare”).  I certainly learned a great deal about investigative methods, the business and politics of research in the US, and the value of hands-on experimentation. And of course life and death. But most of all I credit that experience with bolstering my ability to persevere in the face of chaos. Which brings me to combat training.

I met some very talented surgeons in that public medical center in Newark, New Jersey. I worked alongside some of the most promising young surgeons in the world at that time. They didn’t come to Newark for the Ivy League university, weekend socials, nor the posh resident’s quarters. They came to Newark for the combat training.

Even in peace time, Newark’s surgical residents were exposed to gunshot wounds to the chest and abdomen on a regular basis. And the patients in Newark didn’t call in their own plastic surgeons to make sure their abdominal scars were hidden along the bikini line, or threaten to sue for sub-optimal treatment. The victims on the table may not have been soldiers in the traditional sense, but they were soldiers of the drug wars, or victims of collateral damage from poverty and racism. In the world of medical residency, Newark was on the map as an opportunity for combat training without the combat. A Newark residency guaranteed exposure to gun shot wounds and generic ultra violence, including manglings from industrial machinery and vehicle accidents. The ER in Newark was a very interesting place, to say the least.

Social Media Marketers similarly need combat training, because Social Media Waits for No One. Social Media events break unexpectedly and without warning, and have to be handled right now. Just as the surgeon must dig in and take decisive action, often in the face of chaos, the social media marketer must be prepared to move fast, not knowing the full extent of the problem. The bottom line is, trauma specialists know that if you don’t stop the bleeding, the patient will die.

All the expert and talented surgeons in the world can’t bring a dead patient back to life, no matter how hard they might deploy their deliberate, perfectly executed procedures. Brands however, can be resuscitated, but it is a very, very expensive endeavor and not always possible in one lifetime.

I urge all Social Media Marketers to watch this event very closely. Don’t wait… the cover up is apparently underway already (”secondary complications”, to the medical professional). A cult following is involved. Both Tech 1.0 and Web 2.0 are lined up (on both sides in the Web 2 case, it seems). Threats of reputation damagement have been launched, and money is flowing for reputation management (sorry, can’t link to that one).

Make yourself a name in Social Media Marketing world by studying this FAST and writing about your thoughts.. we want to read them NOW, not later, and will respect you for your awesomeness later when we see that YOU were right, in real time. Seriously… time for less talk and more awesome from the Social Media Experts.

Let’s hear it, folks. What’s the deal with this one? Where will it go? Who’s the ace surgeon handling this mess, what are the procedures being executed RIGHT NOW and are they right? Will they stop the bleeding, make the patient whole? Or nick an artery and cause a cascade of trauma beyond any antidote a response team can administer?

It’s so easy to say “I’m a Social Media Expert” but not so easy to handle a minefield incident right now, when it must be handled. If you want corporations to stop viewing Social Media as a minefield, you need to demonstrate that it can be managed. And this is one really good chance to get some combat training without suffering the combat. Study it and blog about it. Now. The rest of us in SEO, PR, and marketing are really, truly interested in knowing not only how it is playing out, but who really has insight into the real social media battle field.

I seriously wish one of the self-proclaimed “associations” of the search and online marketing professionals would step up and do some good work on emerging issues like these, and make themselves worthy of such a title. Ah but that’s a post for another day.

To get you started (by no means representative of the most recent, best out there, nor comprehensive):

    • http://mediabane.com/jamba-juices-stolen-cubicle-picnic-ad-redefines-lazy-advertising/
    • http://adland.tv/content/jamba-juice-searches-inspiration-decides-copy-get-your-war-comic-instead-badland
    • http://urbaniak.livejournal.com/208277.html
    • http://mediabane.com/jamba-juices-stolen-cubicle-picnic-ad-redefines-lazy-advertising/
    • http://www.mnftiu.cc/ (check the last 2.9 bajillion posts)
    • http://andyontheroad.wordpress.com/2009/07/18/jamba/
    • http://kleefeldoncomics.blogspot.com/2009/07/boycott-jamba-juice.html
    • http://www.summerblissisback.com/cubicle_picnic/picnic.php
    • http://store.doverpublications.com/0486257622.html
    • http://www.nrn.com/breakingNews.aspx?id=360234&menu_id=1368
    • http://consumerist.com/5318578/jamba-juice-rips-off-get-your-war-on-comic-for-ad-campaign
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