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The Federal Website is the New Sacred Cow

A few years ago I was involved in some IT grants from the US government. I was in awe… of the incredible corruption I witnessed. It wasn’t “China style” cash bribes, but rather relationship corruption. Political stuff, where knowing someone got you access, and keeping a strong relationship (by whatever means available) got you continued success. I just called it corruption… I’ll explain why.

At one point, shortly before I left that world out of disgust, I reviewed a $600,000 contract renewal for maintenance of a small database that almost no one used (relatively speaking). Not a large, complicated Oracle database. Not a secure, sensitive database. A simple information database (in a 3 or 4G database language) that had simply gone too long without smart management oversight. No one wanted to touch it. Even the IT guy who built it and maintained it didn’t like working with it, but he apparently didn’t have other job prospects that paid this well. The project had no real career-building value. It was not part of any project that would succeed, nor did it enjoy a high profile. It was simply there, and no one wanted to be the person who decided to stop funding it. The renewal proposal was about the same as it was at last renewal, plus a little more, and came to around $600,000.

That’s nearly a million dollars of your tax money, to fund a seriously second rate (I checked) self-taught IT guy working on something like one single Microsoft Access database, which was used successfully by probably a hundred people each year (mostly because those hundred didn’t otherwise know how to find the data in one place). As a taxpayer, I bet you didn’t know you paid for that.

As I thought about asking specifics about why this was nearly $600,000 and whether it was needed or not, another project came across my desk with a higher priority. It was also a database — this one written in scripts for an IBM AS/400 mainframe system. The database was noted to be essential. It contained vendor contact information, going back nearly 20 years. It was large and not a real database, but a set of scripts. The mainframe was being retired, and the proposal was to either re code the information into a new, modern “database” or fund the maintenance of a dedicated legacy AS/400. The recoding project was estimated at tens of thousands of dollars to get started with a requirements review, with no certainty of the actual total costs. The legacy mainframe was budgeted in the $150k range, plus annual maintenance overhead. Not a ton of money, but not insignificant.

As an IT guy I knew the only correct answer was a re coding, and that a re coding should only be considered after a careful review of the data and it’s value. Over a few months time I successfully navigated the politics and gained access to the “essential data” (in other words, I kept my job while the mainframe guy was eventually forced to retire). I loaded the data into Excel and examined it. Of the hundreds and hundreds of vendor contacts, only 11 were current. Eleven.

In short, much to do about nothing. And that process took about 4 months, plus 20 minutes for me to use Excel.

I was told that the $600,000 contract went through, and the project would be re-examined at some future date. I subsequently learned that databases (at that time… late 1990’s) were the Sacred Cows within government agencies. They were difficult to control, acknowledged as valuable, and sensitive — databases could be “corrupted”, could be “tainted”, could be “infiltrated” or “ms-appropriated”. All great scary important government words, which meant dollars could be safely assigned to databases, with little credible challenge. Databases were technology, and technology was sexy. Databases were large (or could be easily made to be large), which meant they provided a basis for justifying new, faster computers every year. Database administrators in the real world commanded large salaries, so self-taught pseudo DBA’s working for the government could get a decent fraction of a high salary by association. Database administration was also dynamic, which meant training budgets could be justified.

I honestly believe that I would have been able to show that the $600,000 database was almost as equally useless as the 11 vendor database, had I been given a chance. But of course I wasn’t given that chance. I was given a grant of my own instead.

In 2009 we enjoy the ramp up of the age of the government web site. We’ve already seen one web site project approved for over $18 million dollars… and it’s a web site to tell the taxpaying American public specifically how the government is spending our tax money.

We’ve seen several independent consumer-facing web sites launched by the government, each with a unique style, on unique technology platforms, published by different agencies. I can only assume each of these has a maintenance contract as well. And is counting “hits” to justify renewal in the next round of funding. I can only expect that pseudo “branding experts” are preparing the language that will be used to justify intangible asset value as well, a new Sacred Cow for a new age. I don’t recall the Federal Register ever having to package itself as a consumer-friendly magazine, but apparently our new government in Washington thinks government-funded webmasters are the solution to satisfying the public’s need for accountability. What a scam.

And the latest scam is this joke of a web site from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), apparently intended to help consumers understand that credit reports that cost $14.95 per month are not actually free. You paid for that web site, and you’ll pay for the maintenance. You’ll pay for a junior web specialist to get Dreamweaver training, you’ll pay for her associate to take an “intro to marketing” course, and you’ll pay for her supervisor to get “how to manage technical creatives” training.  Or you’ll pay a web company a few hundred thousand dollars to do it all for you (with a maintenance contract going out a few years). All for the very important purpose of…. what exactly?

Exactly. To translate caveat emptor into modern American English, on a web page that no one will read. Unless it ranks at the top of Google. Which it won’t do unless Google forces it there, since it is so poorly crafted. And even in the #1 spot, would it convert? Look for the call to action. Can’t find it.. wait.. no, I thought that was it but no… oh okay I see it… um, yeah that’s probably it. I’ll have to try before I know for sure. It clicks thru to yet another government website (ftccomplaintassistant.gov). Now where’s the “submit a complaint” call to action? Hmm… let me try and find it.

I’d be surprised if the entire process enjoys a goal success rate of 3%.
And if you think I’m exaggerating, go to the site and follow thru to file a complaint. I decided to file mine against the FTC, for misrepresenting themselves as a non-profit entity protecting the American consumer. I was going to focus my complaint on the concept of personal inurement… the use of a non-profit entity to enrich the lives of those operating it, such as through good paying jobs and job perks. I know it doesn’t apply to government web sites, but I wanted to do it anyway so the complaint would sit for years in someone’s “how do we count this one” pile.

I didn’t get far. The web site’s “file a complaint” form forces virtually all of the complaint fulfillment process back on you, the submitter, via a process filled with pick lists and forms to properly classify and categorize your complaint. Almost everything I wanted to pick was not classified, and required I choose “other”. Even the “credit reporting agencies” or “credit reports” issue was not listed as a popular topic. I bet the drop out rate for that feedback form is in the high 80% range, which would be astonishing for a site catering to already pissed off complainers.

But the FTC’s management doesn’t care about that metric. They care about the ones I was asked to grade via a “user feedback form” commissioned through very much for-profit vendor Forsee Results, which sent me a “random feedback” survey. They wanted to know exactly how satisfied I was with things like  the FTC complaint form’s “visual appeal”, “balance of graphics and text”, and “number of clicks it takes”.

Exactly. More spending to justify more spending. Or, in other words, we’re stock piling expensive hay to keep feeding the new sacred cows we outsiders call “web sites”.

Not All Domainers are Scammers

I’ve been a competitive web publisher (and SEO consultant) for many years, and I’ve been participating in domain development for the past few years, working with domain portfolios and people generally classified as domain investors or “domainers“. Lately we’re seeing news articles about scams and rip-offs, and some of those are on big premium domains known to have been developed by domainers (with development partners, of course). Most claims of “scammyness” focus on the monetization angles pursued by the sites.

Question: Are all domainers scammers? No, not all of them.

Proper domain development is an expensive and detailed process.  The most important aspect of successful domain development is web marketing strategy, or publishing strategy – the “why” that should be driving the development process. For those of us experienced in search optimization (SEO), this is the core fundamental aspect of our work. Without a strong set of publishing goals and an associated web strategy, any optimization efforts will succeed only at the whim of search engines. When they are sloppy, and when they leave profits on the table, you can take them. But when they pay attention, you get very little. And when search engines focus attention on actually taking the profits out of your market, you get nothing.

Google has been doing this in more and more markets lately. Any SEO who didn’t pursue a sound publishing strategy a year or more ago is feeling the heat of poor performance right now. How they respond to that heat probably reveals a lot about how they approach domain development in general.

Many domainers  choose only to develop when they find a development partner willing to go after fast money opportunities, which promise a lot of money for little work, risk or investment. Absent that, they are willing to wait. That process acts as a filter, eliminating most opportunities and creating opportunity for scams.

You take your own look at the “free credit reports” marketplace. Does this web site look legitimate? Does it look like a safe and wise choice for getting your government-mandated free credit report? What about this web site. Here’s a hint — the ugly one, with poor optimization, poor user interface and very little character, is the official and safe one the FTC expects you to pick. The others?  The FTC says they are scams… because they actually sign you up for automated monthly rebilling for various kinds of credit monitoring services. Check out the left side of that site, and the full paragraph of information that starts with “Important Information” and says it is not the official free site, does charge a fee, and even links out to the ugly site. Apparently that’s not enough for the FTC (PDF) or at least one congressman.
Scammers exploit opportunity as fast as possible, as aggressively as possible, without regard to consequences, which are often viewed as someone else’s problem (SEP). Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) is make money as fast as possible, SEP is what’s left behind. Sometimes, the investors inherit the problems.  Sometimes the economy does. Usually we are all left with more cautious, more conservative, more heavily regulated environments, while the scammers move on to the next opportunity for exploitation.

Contrary to scammers, more traditional businesses seek to secure a mind share position within a marketplace, maneuver into a position of control and influence, and then exert that influence in ways which manage the marketplace, keeping it profitable (for them) while erecting barriers to entry for competitors. SOP for them is a long term play, even when fueled by revenues gained from fast acting, short term exploitation of transient opportunities (such as those that may exist after innovation and disruption, when such companies build their “war chests”).While scammers take the money and run, real businesses take the money and secure dominant positions in the marketplace.

Strategic SEO/web development is based on sound strategy. The FTC and the entity it designated to set up that ugly, not-very-trustworthy-looking free credit report website had no such web strategy. And it shows.

You’ll find a large number of free credit report websites monetizing on those subtle rebilling programs the FTC despises, and the most successful ones are on premium domains like FreeCreditReport.com, AnnualCredit Report, etc. Premium domains. Are they owned and operated by domainers? Wholly? Partly?

The domain investment industry grew out of nowhere to very high value over the years that the web grew from an idea to the central commerce and information network it is today.  A portion of the domainer community succeeded by stepping into the market, taking risk, making wise moves and/or getting lucky. A portion stepped in and worked hard and/or smartly, again taking risk and investing. And a portion elbowed their way in by breaking rules and conventions, taking advantage of others, and exploiting the commons. We are all free to assign character traits to individuals as we might like, but this is not unlike other industries such as banking, railroads, IT or even SEO.

In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s when domain registrations were free and most generic dot com domains were unregistered, at a time when it was understood that the Internet was non-profit and domains were for companies or individuals (one domain per entity), a Unix system administrator at a University may have registered dozens of names for himself anyway (perhaps working on company time, which may have been funded by grants from the US government). An administrator somewhere else may have reserved names in the system as if they were requested by others, only to take them back for himself years later when they were worth millions. There are many such success stories. It’s not too different from the way “robber barons” operated during the industrial revolution. But there are many others who earned their stripes in more honorable ways as well. in short, it’s business, American style.

So now some domainers are looking to develop their domains into revenue generating businesses, by working with development partners. Some are selling their domains to others, hoping for big prices from those looking to generate revenues on those domains. Along the way, business people driving development are choosing the highest profit opportunities, which often involve consumer scams. When that happens, who are the scammers?

If you enter “free credit report” into Google, what comes up? It’s always more than one site. Anything else would be un-American.

I think it’s pretty obvious to everyone who takes a closer look. No matter what necessary illusions get published in the mean time, those knowingly ripping off others assume the responsibility for the fraud. The rest are doing business.. meeting market needs, creating opportunities.

Not all SEOs are scammers. Not all domainers are scammers. You don’t need to cheat and steal to make money on the Internet. And your government doesn’t actually have to do a good job with your tax money, does it?

Upgrade Mandriva 2009 to Mandriva 2010 : How to Upgrade

Mandriva Linux released Mandriva One 2010 (see free Manriva Linux OS download here), an upgrade of Mandriva One Spring 2009). The Mandriva upgrade process is not very difficult, but there are specific steps to follow. it’s not as hard as a kernel update (for that, see here). Also be sure to backup your existing Mandriva linux files, for safety.

Mandriva Linux upgrade

As more resources for Mandriva upgrade (2009 to 2010) come out I’ll link to them. In the mean time, a discussion of the Mandrake 2010 Upgrade process is ongoing here. A discussion of the transition from Mandrake brand of Linux to Mandriva (since the assumption of Mandrake by Mandriva the corporation, formerly known as MandrakeSoft) is available on Wikipedia.Search engines are returning this page for Mandriva upgrade, but it’s not really relevant.

Purpose Inc. Annual Pubcon Poker Tourney 2009

Here it is, the 2009 Charity Poker Event at Pubcon:

As usual San Diego’s favorite Chiropractor Dr. Klein is making it happen at the Las Vegas Pubcon Internet entrepreneurs conference. See the sponsors? Azoogle network, Train Signal (a software training company), We Build Pages… and lots more, all supporting a quality charity event.

And speaking of quality charities, I take this opportunity to highlight the amazing Captain Ozone.  A project of Environmental Media Northwest, a group focused on introducing young school kids to the power of the media as a means of improving the world (environmentally speaking). Maybe Captain Ozone needs bigger speedos, but the mission seems to be honorable, and I totally support the idea of teaching kids the power of public communications as early as possible.

Be sure and register to play or RSVP so you can attend as a guest see http://www.purposeinc.com/pwp/pubcon

Evaluating Web Marketing Tools

I’m currently evaluating SEO and web marketing tools, and will be posting a series of reviews and experiences over the next few months. I do this sort of hands-on review about every 18 months, although I haven’t published my thoughts previously. This year’s high level of change in the web search world demands a new review now.

My methodology for review is rather straightforward. I am a competitive web publisher and I do some web strategy/SEO consulting for clients. So my needs cross over from publisher to multi-site publisher to service provider. I work with small sites and very large sites.

I take an academic or experimentalist approach to my work, paying close attention to details. I take time to try and understand what I am doing, and what results are provided, rather than accept findings as what they are supposed to be. Contrast that to an agency style of working, more concerned with uniformity, scalability, and simplicity. In other words, rather than seek automation of tasks I don’t mind interacting manually with my work tasks… provided that effort delivers value. I almost always seek unique value from my work, and consider it more like research than task work.

I will be using these tools and services to solve real problems in real time, during the evaluation period, but using test sites or competitor sites or sites associated with side projects (the local youth hockey league, my dentist, sites I have offered to consult to as a favor etc). For those I choose to continue to work with, I hope to address specific SEO/SEM problems further using the tools, as a means of figuring out if they can be used successfully that way, or how else they may prove insightful. I hope everyone reading will participate in those cases.

For most of my serious work I use tools I have developed in house, or tools accessed via client accounts. Part of this review is a consideration of the state of the art of third party tools for search marketing and competitive web strategy — including whether or not it appears wise to trust them with business activity data. I hope to identify some new opportunities.

If you know of a SEO/SEM related tool or service that should be included in this evaluation, please leave a comment to that effect.  If you have a specific reason for suggesting it, please say so, since that can help prioritize and maybe streamline some of the evaluations. I will try and evaluate everything according to my priority, regardless of cost, but of course I will be limited by my ability to gain access to tools and services. Expensive services that require term commitments and services which only provide limited trial versions will probably be excluded from consideration. I think that a company that can’t arrange for full evaluation of its offering doesn’t deserve to be considered.

The types of tools and services under review:

Those are examples of the types of tools I’ll evaluate, not necessarily ones I will be using/evaluating. I’ll post the specific tools by name when I review them.

Again, if you have specific tools or services to suggest, please comment (comments here are moderated so if you can mark your comment private if you don’t want it published here). Thanks in advance for pointing to good tools/services I might not already know.

Google buys Twitter for $6 Billion

Google has finally succumbed to the pressures of reality and ponied up the cash to buy Twitter for $6 billion dollars (mostly cash plus some serious seats at Google). Twitter is now owned by Google, as it should be.

That’s the headline I think we’ll see soon enough, when Google gets over itself and swallows the bitter pill. The mistake was already made… more than once…. when Google failed to truly demonstrate the value of Twitter to its future. Had it offered a sweet enough deal, it could have bought Twitter before. Everyone has a price. But with each passing week, Google (and the rest of us) see more and more clearly just how essential Twitter is to Google’s future. And each wek, the cost of acquiring Twitter goes up.

One of these days, Google will make the sacrifice. The question is when… and whether Google will survive the transaction.

Would you use a Link Building Tool owned by a Link Builder?

If a professional link builder created a tool for managing the process of researching, requesting, logging and managing links (paid, volunteered, incentivized, viral, or whatever), would you use it? That’s the question, and it is a question which cuts to the core issues of SEO land (trust) while highlighting uncertainties associated with the “software as a service” model (the security of competitive business information).

We already have a whole generation of people raised on web-based software as a service. Raised in a world where data is placed into allegedly-secure online databases, and accessed via the web (with little or no access accounting). Contrast that with the “old fashioned” way of doing business — keeping your own business data on your own computers, locked inside your own offices.

I used to laugh at the way people posted their private, competitive business data to third party websites. Then I stared in befuddlement as that became the norm. Nowadays I just walk around shaking my had, muttering not-very-savantish things at garbage cans while onlookers brand me a lunatic. Just kidding… but I am amazed that so few recognize the risks associated with sharing business information.

Now a well know link building service provider is offering a tool for managing link building. Part of the pitch is that only a professional link builder really knows how to build a good link building tool. I don’t disagree… but I do think the last person I want to share my link building activity data with is a professional link builder.

Just think of how valuable your link building activity data would be to someone in the link building business! That service will aggregate a vast database of places people get links from, people (webmasters) contacted for linking purposes, and perhaps even the costs of links negotiated. Wow… what a great resource for a professional link builder to data mine.

I didn’t mention the person nor company, and don’t mean to imply any lack of trust nor do I suggest that you be concerned about trusting that person. No, I suggest you be concerned about trusting anyone with your business information, especially link building activity data.

Google Crowdsourcing 3D Maps

Google is getting way cool.

Today Google announced that it is crowdsourcing 3D maps, calling it “Google Building“. Google Building pretends to be a cool new Lego-like game for tech geeks to waste their time with, but in reality, it’s crowdsourcing that I expect will work well for Google.

Check out the video:

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JI6wVtCY99E]

Google smartly makes use of the perspective views obtained from aerial photography, and provides the (simple) tool for overlaying simple geometric shapes it can easily register to the images. It then (again, easily) maps the images to the built blocks. If you’ve ever worked in image processing, you recognize this as very smart engineering — taking the available data, simplifying the remaining tasks to those that are easily accomplished but which deliver greatest impact.

After all, Google doesn’t need the rendering to be exact. It needs it to look good and be a close relative approximation. And since it is easy and fun, it can be crowdsourced.

Bravo, Google.  I can’t wait to see various cities race to be the first fully-rendered (San Francisco?).Oh, and of course the cross-promotion/adoption of Google Earth, Google Maps, Google SketchUp, etc.

Keas.com – another bad domain name

Another variant of Health Vault, and another bad domain name. This time it’s keas.com, an online medical records play from Adam Bosworth, who left his position as head of the Google Health team. Of Bosworth’s choice of domain name, The New York Times says: “The name “kea” refers to a species of alpine parrot, which he spotted on the South Island of New Zealand

The name of an alpine parrot? From New Zealand? A homonym of “keys”? Confusingly similar to the car company Kia? Or does it mean “Killed In Action”?

I can imagine the excuses made at pitch meetings.. it’s short, and we need a short name so people can remember it. Or It was “available”. Or perhaps even “we’re a startup.. we’ll re-brand later” which is always my favorite. Rebrand later? Are you serious? And then there’s the “our exit startegy is to be bought by some big company or conglomerate, and they won’t care about the name“. Or maybe “we’re not really independent, but just set up that way so that we could do things that big established companies would not be allowed to do. Like a skunkfarm. So the name didn’t matter“.

Not to be overly critical of just the domainname,  this play seems to be all about locking up a community and keeping them away from searching for themselves. Rather than rely on healthcare search marketing, the business of reaching consumers who need need specific health information by appearing prominantly before them when they search Google or Bing, this play is about locking the consumer into a medical records database system. Once your data is in there, they own you. It will know everything about you. It will know you are 47, overweight, diabetic, and that you play fantasy football 7 hours a day on the weekends. From there, it can pretty much predict the rest (including your liklihood of drawing on health insurance coverage in the near term, mid term, long term).

It’s backed by both Google and Microsoft, so far (according to the report)… those same players who were so widely criticized when they tried to lock up medical records last time. Criticized because, well, their initiatives are completely driven by profit and corporate power, while our governments remain almost completely inert on the front of “helping people because they need help and it’s the right thing to do (and also cause we took their tax money)“.

Keas. Not a herd of small Korean cars… not those little metal things you use to start your big American car. It’s your interface to your medical records, sponsored by the companies that want to know everything about you. In order to help you. Sure.

Is it time to revive the concept of domain name consultant?

New FTC Guidelines

Update 10/2009: Note that this is a blog… an opinion. I post on topics of interest, but don’t pretend to be a news reporter. That said, this post was on-target. It was a response to the crazy blogging going on after the FTC announced new guidelines for sponsored word of mouth advertising. Righteous-sounding bloggers proclaimed fines and laws barring word of mouth promotions that did not openly “disclose” material relationships (like free products). I said that was nonsense (see below). Subsequent updates (see the end, down below) confirmed that.

But for those who like to go further with the facts, check out this report of the IAB’s response to the FTC action. The report states:

Richard Cleland, assistant director, division of advertising practices at the FTC, said the ‘$11,000 fine is not true. Worst-case scenario, someone receives a warning, refuses to comply, followed by a serious product defect; we would institute a proceeding with a cease-and-desist order and mandate compliance with the law. … There’s no monetary penalty, in terms of the first violation, even in the worst case.’ Instead, he said the FTC’s guidelines are intended to serve as education.

See? It’s not really even a fine… it’s a guideline. For education. Carry on.
—end of update


A report of the final draft of the new FTC guidelines is out. You can read it here, or read about it here. I don’t like the Mashable coverage; I don’t think it is objective enough, and it clearly sensationalizes the fines aspect, with additional commentary suggesting a strong bias against paid endorsements.

Looking at the actual FTC news release instead, I’ll highlight what I consider the most important parts of the report (which is NOT the guideline…that is to be posted to the Federal Register):

The Guides are administrative interpretations of the law intended to help advertisers comply with the Federal Trade Commission Act; they are not binding law themselves

Got that? The FTC won’t be taking you off to jail, and your lawyer is free to argue your case on the points. It’s not a fine for non-disclosure.

advertisements that feature a consumer and convey his or her experience with a product or service as typical when that is not the case will be required to clearly disclose the results that consumers can generally expect.

Know those promotions that have fine print “results not typical”? Now they have to actual say what typical is. That’s the change.

the post of a blogger who receives cash or in-kind payment to review a product is considered an endorsement

Okay so now that’s settled. It was always true, but the FTC wanted to state publicly that its lawyers were convinced it was true (as a means of influencing the court system)  Now your lawyer should be certain that it is true, too. This can save you money.

bloggers who make an endorsement must disclose the material connections they share with the seller of the product or service

This is the guideline (not the law). This can be argued… on several points. Was the post an actual advertisement? Was it an actual endorsement? Did the material benefits come directly from the seller, or through a third party? Expect evangelical paid-posts-are-evil websites to proclaim the end of sponsored posts, and the make-money-online web sites to come up with crafty new ways to make a personal blog post NOT technically an endorsement (somehow). That’s how business works, and that’s how evangelical social media websites get attention.

if a company refers in an advertisement to the findings of a research organization that conducted research sponsored by the company, the advertisement must disclose the connection between the advertiser and the research organization

This is a good change, but the political action groups have addressed this (successfully) already. They make new non-profit organizations and think tanks that sound like one thing, but are actually another. A certain “coal is the future of America’s independence from foreign oil” group, which proclaims that CO2 is good for us, and is named green something, comes to mind. There are more of these; they play to our collective lack of patience for looking past the labels and tag lines. (To the Social Media blogger who took money to publish this… I have to say cool story bro).

Finally, the guidelines really boldly clarify this one:

a paid endorsement – like any other advertisement – is deceptive if it makes false or misleading claims

I guess that needed to be clarified, since we’ve just about forgotten about the concept of right and wrong in this country lately.

Updated 10/15/2009: Jon Henshaw provided an update/clarification  that pretty much confirms what I said above.. check it out.

Always Be Link Building

Every few days a note flies across the discussion groups pointing to some trick that improves web site performance. Today is was this interesting article on button colors and conversion rates. Dan Harrison published “How to Quickly Triple Your Conversion Rate“, describing some testing he did on his gadget affiliate site. The bottom line? Orange buttons outperform blue. And red outperforms orange. And “shop now” outperforms “more info” and “buy now”. Or something like that.

Of course I got some emails today asking me if “we” should change our buttons to red, and our button text to “shop now”. Please re-consider Dan’s post, and consider context.

Red and orange were higher contrast than the blue, for Dan’s site. The contrast attracts the eye. The eye then reads the message (button text), which makes a suggestion to the reader. If the reader has just browsed an item and found it intriguing, a “shop now” message may be very effective. If the reader has not been so primed to buy, “more info” might perform better.

Dan’s site has a top section with brief blurbs on popular products. Products the landing user has not already expressed interest in, specifically. I expect in that circumstance, a “shop now” will outperform a “buy now”. Only the most impulsive visitor would “buy” something they never knew before seeing a brief blurb. The “buy now” asks for a commitment. Shop Now does not.

Of course Dan’s visitors are to some degree primed for gadgets and enviro gadgets. Only Dan can test Dan’s traffic. And only you (and Google if you let them watch your business activity via Google Analytics or AdSense) can test your traffic.

Dan’s inner sections, where products are found via drill down, would probably do better with “buy now”. I’m not positive, and like Dan, I would want to test. But I would not consider it magic if it worked… I would consider it good design.

Also keep in mind that the overall visual design influences the visitor. Not just contrast, but lines present on the page, distractions, attractors, and scanned text. It all works together, as the user puts it to work on a task (find what I need).

Is it a good article? It’s a great article. It’s link bait, drawing links (like the back link in this blog post) which Dan will convert into money as he links over to his gadget blog or cashes in on his profile as a web publisher/affiliate. A blog which, should be noted, I never knew existed before Dan wrote about his testing. And yes, we are his target audience (we buy gadgets).

Should we change our buttons to red? No, but we should revisit the importance of contrast and visual design, because apparently we have forgotten some of our priorities (demonstrated by how easily we were impressed by Dan’s article). We may need to do some more testing to see if we can further boost conversions for the happy potential customers that are primed to shop or buy, but which we are failing to entice completely.

And finally, we should always be link building. Always, as a matter of course.

Rocky Mountain Bank Security

Last week Rocky Mountain Bank (according to reports) emailed, unencrypted, social security numbers and personal financial data on 1300+ customers, to the wrong address (link below):

The e-mail, sent by an employee of Jackson, Wyo.-based Rocky Mountain Bank on August 12, contained names, addresses, Social Security numbers, and loan information of more than 1,300 bank customers.

From court documents (PDF):

The confidential information includes names, addresses, tax identification numbers,3 and loan information for each of the 1,325 customer accounts.

That email, with the customers’ information, went to a gmail address. A frantic skirmish ensued, with Rocky Mountain Bank actually getting a court order to force Google to lock the email address. That part got the attention of the tech community, but what about the part about Rocky Mountain Bank leaking customer social security numbers? Why wasn’t that part sensational? And the part about Rocky Mountain Bank filing a request to seal the court order, on the grounds that it was not good for the bank, with an assertion that the confidential information may not have been actually “disclosed”:

Plaintiff argues that if its complaint and motion papers are not filed under seal, all of its customers may learn of the inadvertent disclosure. Plaintiff further argues that publication of the disclosure before it determines whether the Gmail account is active or dormant will unnecessarily create panic among all of its customers and result in a surge of inquiry from its customers. In his declaration, Mark Hendrickson, states that “until there is a determination that the Confidential Customer Information was in fact disclosed and/or misused, the Bank cannot advise its customers on whether there was an improper disclosure.”

It gets worse. Now that Rocky Mountain Bank (of Jackson, Wyoming) has confirmation from Google that the owner of the gmail account had not yet read the email, we are asked to accept that all is well in Rocky Mountain Bank Security Land:

“As a result, no customer data of any sort has been viewed or used by any inappropriate user during this data lapse,” Martinez wrote. “Rocky Mountain Bank acted to protect its customer’s confidential information. That objective was accomplished. The matter is now closed and the TRO (temporary restraining order) entered on September 23, 2009 is now vacated.”

Seriously? Unencrypted emails are stored on numerous servers on their way to their destination. An email sent from Rocky Mountain Bank in Wyoming to a Gmail account, is not “secure” along the way. Just because Google says the email has not been read via the gmail account, does not mean the email has not been copied, stored, archived, or even read on numerous cooperating servers in the public path between Rocky Mountain Bank and Google’s GMail servers. I don’t even trust that Google’s determination is accurate. Without details, who knows if the email and been read and marked as unread? Or forwarded? Or accessed outside of the web interface? Has anyone looked to see just what Google specifically examined? Or is Rocky Mountain Bank just hoping we’ll all forget this “mistake”?

Not to mention the tougher questions. Is it standard Rocky Mountain Bank procedure to email confidential customer data unencrypted, every day? Is it only when they realize they sent it to the wrong address, that it becomes news?

I expect a name change for Rocky Mountain Bank in the near future, for Reputation Management purposes, but really… when will we start demanding more from our banks and their inept managers and executives?

The Value of Gestalt

Just back from Think Tank meeting in San Diego, I am struck anew by the awesome latent value of SEO “gestalt“:  the collective gut feeling that practicing, experienced SEO people have. That is arguably one of the most valuable parts of a conference like Think Tank. A gathering of Internet entrepreneurs, Think Tank is not just search people. But there are enough SEO experts in attendance to make it a valuable gathering for those of us focusing mainly on search issues. The collective demeanor and opinion of those engaged with the optimization of search monetization on the web has incredible value.

Today’s Techmeme highlights a Wall Street Journal article entitled “Monster Has Plans to Become 800-Pound Gorilla of Job Ads“. The article states things like “Over the past three years, it [Monster.com] has spent more than $200 million to redesign its Web site for job seekers;“. It includes a number of optimistic quotes from Monster’s representatives.  Clearly this Wall Street Journal article will help Monster.com maintain its stock price or even sell more stock. The problem is, this article goes against some very strong SEO gestalt currents I’ve witnessed.

I recall a number of recent conversations with colleagues about how doomed career sites like Monster are these days. How the job/career marketplace has moved away from central database-driven sites and into decentralized social media. How the monetization of career opportunity has shifted away from the old “employer/recruiter” system, despite the efforts of companies like CareerBuilder and Monster to syndicate and socialize their efforts. I won’t highlight here where the insights pointed, but that these private conversations with web entrepreneurs practically deny this Wall Street Journal article’s main premise. See the disconnect?

The Wall Street Journal has access to leaders and analysts in the career industry. I only accessed the collective gestalt of a few dozen web entrepreneurs. Who would you bet on? What does that say for the value of the broadcast news media, and the value of the gestalt of your network of peers, friends, and colleagues? What does that say about how media outlets like The Wall Street Journal have evolved in this day and age of Social Media, perhaps as tools of industry instead of tools of the readers? If outlets like the Wall Street Journal are recognized as tools of marketing for the corporations they “analyze”, and are no longer considered sources of insights and education for the readers/investors, how can they survive? Should they survive as consumer products?

Social Media is most revered for its ability to aggregate the collective conscience of small niche groups, in public, for free. That may not yet be recognized, but should be. But Social Media does not have to be free. That collective gestalt is valuable. We are still in the early stages of tool development, which is largely driven by investments chasing huge markets, but soon enough the private forum/private membership sites will be able to lock up those communities. It has to happen… that is the only way to develop them beyond the basics structures we have now.

I’m sure there are theories addressing all of this, but I, like today’s software developers, don’t have time to investigate. We are all forced to go with the flow during the transition phase. But don’t be fooled… those entrepreneurs who branch off early enough (but not too early) will win big. I doubt the wisest investment involves Monster.com except as it plays in an exit strategy.

Pubcon is coming up in Las Vegas, and that is the next big gathering of search-focused web entrepreneurs I’ll attend. I’m going to  set up at least one small private dinner or gathering, specifically to address some of this SEO gestalt theory in the context of Pubcon networking. If you’re interested, drop me an email or call. I can’t promise you’ll get a seat, but I will put you on the list. Aside from networking with quality peers in a quality venue (good food, good fun) it will aim to elicit a general sense of the status quo and the future of select SEO issues we all deal with every day. Nothing intense… nothing to distract from the general value of networking, but I will ask everyone to contribute some gut feelings on core SEO issues that are certain to be important going forward. I think that has incredible value, and would like to prove it.

Google Sidewiki: A New Marketplace for Trust

Google has launched Sidewiki, an annotation service for web pages. There is already some discussion of how it might be used. I see it as a natural extension of Google’s desire to put trust to work, and that means a new premium marketing opportunity.

Google has invested heavily in identifying individual people. Google requires a Google account for most services, which it ties to an individual using whatever data it can obtain (IP, email address, credit card data, toolbar web activity, etc). The user is the key to trust, and Google is investing heavily in an accountable web (as compared to an anonymous web). Add in cookies and local storage objects (LSO) it obtains from Doubleclick, Adsense, and Google Analytics, and you have to recognize Google can track users.

Just as it seems clear that Google has moved beyond web sites and started to catalog/index brands or companies (based on trust metrics, as is evident from Google local activities over the past year or so), Google wants to know people. Webmasters as well as users. Google’s trust of wikipedia, Google Profiles and Google Knoll add to the picture… who is known, who is known to be known, known to be respected, known to be active, known to be a spammer, etc. Trust is huge for Google.

And now Google, with Sidewiki, can explore the ability to collect opinions from trusted individuals. Opinions may produce additional knowledge to be used in assigning relevance (“I used SiteA to plan my trip to Ecuador”) or ranking (Sidewiki on Orbitz may be full of comparisons to Expedia or Travelocity).

I’m thinking a trusted individual, known to Google, is increasingly eligible to bring hir recommendations to the marketplace for a fee. The more we see Google slap bloggers who take money to push products or make recommendations, the more value we must assume those recommendations carry. The offline world moved to celebrity endorsements  successfully, so why not online, too?

Google is trying to play gatekeeper, judge, and jury when it comes to online celebrity. Quick.. name an online celebrity who can’t be found in Google. The only ones you can recall are probably the ones who gaind fame for getting slapped by Google. The rest? Do they even exist? (sarcasm)

Thus far Google has felt free to stifle online celebrities that are known only for their online celebrity (by banning them for related activities, such as pushing products). Lately, that slippery slope has gotten very slippery, with Google broadening its language concerning “sponsorship” and even calling on the FTC to get involved.

The thinkers out there should think through the end game consequences…what makes a brand? What makes an online celebrity? What are the trust factors? And perhaps most importantly, why do we as a society say the consumer is not misled when Tiger Woods says he chooses to drink Cherry Gatorade, but might be misled when a blogger says she uses a new hair product?

Google Sidewiki… another tool for your online marketer’s toolbox.

Meta Tags and SEO for Google

Subtitled: The (continued) Importance of Meta Tags

With the recent proclamation by Google that “meta tags don’t matter”, there is a need for some constraint. Meta tags do matter, folks. They are important! Google knows this… they never actually said meta tags don’t matter. They said something about meta tags, which was quite nuanced, and important, and needs to be understood. But they did not say meta tags don’t matter!

Meta tags are important. They are the method of publishing data that is not rendered visibly by the user’s web browser. There is a whole set of meta tags available to webmasters. The recent Google announcement applied to ONE of the meta tags in the set… the meta keywords tag. Nothing else. Just that one. They said that one didn’t matter to Google. Almost.

So let’s cut through some of the hype out there in Internet news land. Google did not say meta tags don’t matter – they simply said they do not use the meta keywords tag for ranking. That’s it.

But even the meta keywords tag is still important folks! There are more search engines than just Google, and hopefully more to come. We have to keep in mind, especially when dealing with Google, that web publishers define the web, not Google. Google (and the others) make use of what we publish, to create search engines. If we publish junk in the meta keywords tag, for example, a search engine is likely to ignore it (as Google says it does). But if we publish good, clean meta information in a meta tag? Search engines would be foolish not to use it. We might not be there today because of spammy marketers trying to exploit ranking factors, but we shouldn’t let that distract us from proper course of web publishing.

Take this announcement as a signal to properly use your meta tags. If you don’t use them properly, search engines will start to ignore them (thus further limiting our options for communicating invisibly with web services like search engines). Put a few highly-relevant and appropriate keywords into your meta keywords tag, as a matter of course. Microsoft says Bing still uses them. Perhaps Bing knows when to trust them, and when to ignore them. Perhaps Bing is better than Google at one or two specific things, but it shouldn’t really matter to webmasters — it’s an option for them to read them or ignore them. But we should publish them. Should we agonize over them? Spend priority resources getting them “perfect”? No.

So why did Google announce this, and why now? Because Google gets involved as a third party to lawsuits involving trademark terms placed into the keywords meta tag (and title, and description, and page content, etc). The courts have struggled to interpret claims that trademarks (brand names) placed in meta data, where they are invisible to the web surfer, represent interference or infringement of rights. If the stuffed brand names are invisible to users, they can’t be considered confusing to the consumer. But if they influence search rankings, then yes, they can help competitors appear in place of the brand names they hide in their meta tags, and meta stuffing can be seen as infringing or interfering. But… and this is a big but…. someone needs to determine (in the courts, as part of discovery, if they impact search and how they impact search. Understand? The lawsuit gets extended to Google, as lawyers subpoena Google for information on how its algorithm works. Ouch. Google hates that.

So Google came out and stated publicly that meta keywords do not influence rankings. Period. That’s all they said.

My advice? Same as last week and last year. Keep using as many meta tags as is important to your web publishing, including the keywords meta tag. Don’t spend a lot of time crafting seo-optimized keywords meta tags…. just use a few highly relevant, meaningful keywords that might support a classification of your page content according to its intent (a diatribe on why I hate Google should be tagged Google, for example, and maybe john andrews, but not “digital marketing firms in Seattle Washington“).

Don’t be fooled…. if meta information carries value, Google will use it. Today, Google says they don’t use the keywords meta tag for ranking. Do they use it for trust? Do they use it for quality scores? Do they use it for other purposes that may influence indexing or relevance, not directly related to ranking? We don’t know. No one asked those questions. No one asked if they look at the keywords meta tag to see if it keyword stuffed, as a measure of webmaster spammy-ness or quality. All we know is, today, Google says they don’t use them for ranking.

Matt Cutts, in a follow-up video statement, said they don’t use the keywords meta tag for “anything”, but the language was not carefully-crafted and casual, so I don’t accept that as a clarifying statement. It still needs follow-up. After all, if Bing actually was using them safely, but Google found them too spammy to trust, wouldn’t it be helpful to Google (e.g. harmful to Bing) if everyone stopped using the keywords meta tag? I know a few search industry figure heads will latch on to that as a sign of “conspiracy thinking” but we can ignore those hyperbolic talking heads… it’s not a conspiracy, it’s competitive webmastering. There is no reason to make linear assumptions if we can play safely while minimizing risk of things changing over time.

I hope that helps clarify some of the hype around keywords meta tag and SEO. This post was prompted by questions from my audience, this concise opinion that almost hit the mark, and an article from Search Engine Land that, for me, exemplifies much of what is wrong with the search marketing media (inaccurate inflammatory title, overly-casual treatment of the topic, wandering back and forth between conclusions “it’s useful” vs. “it’s not useful”, and over-reliance on anecdotal evidence obtained with limited tests. Webmaster world has a more rational discussion, touching on several possibilities while considering past and current experiences… of course still including the typical absolutisms expected from old timers. Scan that thread to get a good feel for webmaster sentiment, and make your own judgment.

Proctor and Gamble Eats Values for Lunch

In my twitter stream this morning was a quip about Proctor and Gamble having a new strategy. I clicked through.

I landed on an old-school designed page with a 66 year old woman’s face smiling at me. She was Rosabeth Moss Kanter, the author of the article. It was a Harvard web site. Her bio was monstrous: named professorship at Harvard  Business School, 25 years of experience in strategy consulting to Big Brands, former editor of Harvard Business Review. Listed by a British newspaper as one of the “50 most powerful women in the world”. And she wrote some books.

If you know me, you probably know I was less than impressed. Old school credentials mean little to me. Oh sure 30 years ago you had to be great to be great. But somewhere around 30 or so years ago, you only had to be better than someone else to be great. More recently, you merely had to know someone great, to be great. Lately, it seems you simply have to say how great you are, to be great. And anyone can write a book… even people who don’t write their own books are book authors. Best sellers? You can pre-sell your way to the best seller list today. There’s even a search marketing book selling for twenty something dollars that is practically famous for including a $200 advertising credit for Microsoft’s AdCenter system. What profit-minded web marketer would not buy a $20 book that includes a $200 rebate? I expect that author to publish claims of his “best selling book author” status any day now.

Ms. Kanter’s article says Proctor and Gamble is revamping business strategy around values. Reaching out to the consumers, to understand their modern value systems, and speaking to those values with innovative new products. Making their world a better place. Sound familiar?

We saw this generations ago (or last week on Mad Men for you young ‘uns), and almost every day since. Corporations telling us how their products improve our world. Unfortunately, those corporations exploited every available opportunity along the way. They would improve one aspect of life with a consumer product, and exploit every other aspect of life that was not being monitored.If the people were ignorant of some other aspects of their miserable or soon to be miserable lives, the corporation would exploit that in the profit equation. They sell one product that makes life better, while making life much worse (in the long run) through the manufacturing and selling that same product.
If a community used drinking glasses in the school cafeteria, that could be spun as expensive, dangerous, and unsanitary. Glasses can break. Unsanitary meant germ-fostering. Germs are a problem, so getting rid of germs would improve quality of life. Viola.. a values-driven business strategy to sell disposable cups to school systems. It would not require a hard sell, just some marketing. Any responsible parent would choose germ-free over unsanitary. As long as the community didn’t know that bleaching process used to make white paper cups would destroy their rivers and streams, or that the foam used in foam cups would require the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and never degrade once “disposed” of, the corporation would profit from the matching of product to values. No one counted carbon molecules, and to this day no one measures the local water consumed to produce products shipped outside of the local community. Exploitation. It’s profitable. No one considered how glass was sanitary itself, glass could be recycled locally, and no one did a factual risk analysis for broken glasses. None of that was profitable.

Now Ms. Kanter tells us Proctor and Gamble is at it again. She cites an example from colorful far away India. She tells us “In India, about half of men’s shaves are done in barbershops where barbers break double-sided blades in two and use them repeatedly. (Ouch! Unsanitary and bloody inconvenient.)”

Contrary to Ms. Kanter’s apparent assumptions, I read that example as rather sustainable. According to my values (based here in the US, like the “Himalaya Team” at Proctor and Gamble, which is based in Boston), I’d rather see a metal razor blade re-used than see a disposable, plastic-handled Gillette razor thrown into the trash to be dumped in a landfill next to a (former) trout stream. Ms. Kanter reports that Gillette has innovated a new razor product to match the Indian community’s values. She tells us “The team’s razor-and-blade innovation, they report, involves simplification to the essential features to do the job, an affordable cost through manufacturing innovations, and new way to reach lower-income shavers. They preach health as well as grooming benefits.”

India is a country fraught with water problems and economic growth issues. Is it wise for them to adopt some new Gillette disposable razor system, no matter how much better it is than it used to be? Do we know anything about actual sanitation risks of barber-wielded razors? I would think a shaky-handed barber would go out of business pretty quickly. Think about this…. if half of the shaves in India are done by barbers, that’s local money going through local commerce. A self-employed tradesman could actually live without working for a corporation at minimum wage. If they buy Gillette disposables, the money goes through channels to overseas companies, and the garbage stays local. So does the packaging garbage. The barbers will have to take jobs at Wal-Mart (stocking the shelves with Gillette razors?). Haven’t we already learned the pitfalls of this type of global commerce? Aren’t today’s value systems already aware of the evil of this sort of “making lives better through consumer products” approach? And Ms. Kaner calls this new and innovative?

I have no doubt Proctor and Gamble will succeed. It’s “too big to fail”. There will always be a community ignorant of the exploits and willing to adopt the products, believing the marketing and hoping for a better life. There will always be corrupt or selfish government officials willing to trade away their people’s well being for incentives (While advising corporations, Ms. Kanter notes the importance of earning “favorable treatment from government”).

But I also believe that today, more than ever, the consumer is in a position to tell these corporations how they need to make their products. Those Indian men are already saying “it is good to visit the local barber for a shave. It is good to have strong community, and to reduce waste and support local commerce.” Ms. Kanter says P&G is listening and innovating. I disagree. It seems to me P&G is listening and maneuvering, trying to work around the changing value systems because profits are down and they need to sustain global growth in order to continue to please shareholders and support executive at P&G and on Wall Street. I suspect that if P&G had done research to show there were real sanitation concerns associated with the use of re-usable razors in barber shops in India, those barbers would address the root problems of cleanliness. They would have to, in order to keep their customers. But I doubt P&G could sustain profitability selling such minimal solutions into that market. After all, the real reason those barbers are not using disposable razors now is probably cost, not environmental awareness.

We, you and I, not corporations, need to lead the front on values. The Internet and Social Media, especially, helps educate everyone and eliminate the pockets of exploitable communities. It helps get the word out in both directions… what works, and what does not. Where there is no Internet, there can be people carrying knowledge of how the rest of the world works.You and I need to discuss openly, in public, what works and what does not. The conversation needs to take place in the open, not behind closed doors in some research and development department of a consumer products corporation.

Our world has gotten smaller. Do you have any idea where your garbage goes today? We won’t always have overseas garbage dumps for our toxic waste. We won’t always have ignorant communities with corrupt politicians willing to trade the health and welfare of their people for American dollars. It was practically yesterday that some were suggesting we dig holes in the arctic ice and bury our waste, yet already that ice is melting and the ice caps are breaking up. Where would that buried waste be now? The ocean has already begun to regurgitate the trash we’ve been dumping into it for the past 70 years. Where will it go now? Who will clean it up?  I guarantee it won’t be Proctor and Gamble or Gillette.

HarvardBusiness.org is old school, and Ms. Kanter is old school, and as a former editor at Harvard and current consultant to big brands, she will get her stuff published. But that doesn’t mean it’s good or worthy even. And you don’t have to buy it, or read it. And most of all, you don’t need to put it into my Twitter stream. Instead, tweet something valuable. I’ll retweet it if you do. Together, we can lead on values, and perhaps keep one step ahead of the “innovators” at places like Proctor and Gamble as they seek new exploits to drive their profits. Perhaps most intriguing of all is the idea that maybe, if not today then someday soon, there will be better odds of a barber in India reading Twitter than an executive at Proctor and Gamble reading Twitter. Wouldn’t that be great? That would lead to innovation, for sure.

But First, to Prevent Spam, what is 6 plus 4?

You see it all the time. You are shopping for web services, maybe a designer or SEO company in Seattle. You land on the website of a company you do not yet know, and are offered a contact form. You are not offended by what you see, and maybe even like some of it; you see potential. You want more information, but not necessarily by giving up your contact info. Can you trust them?

That is why you are here reading the web page… to decide if you will seek to know more about them, or pass over them and keep looking for someone else. You hope that eventually, before you die of old age, you will find a promising company you are willing to trust. Someone you might hire. Someone who can deliver what you need. Someone who is affordable but high quality. So you decide to fill in the lead form.

Almost done, and it says “to prevent spam, what is 6 plus 4? (required)“.

Spam?

I’ll stop here. I’ll just ask the obvious question of you, the business offering that form to that potential new customer, at that stage of the process:

Did you really want to introduce the idea of spam right at the point where this new potential customer was (finally) willing to trust you with their name, address, and phone number?

If you need anti-spam technologies for your lead gen form, hire a decent programmer or web developer. Tell them SEO consultant John Andrews sent you over, because you need a user-friendly, spam-proof contact form that is easy for the user and trackable for its conversion performance. If you don’t get good results, let me know.

Domino’s Pizza Delivers SEO

Domino’s Pizza. The one everyone knows, whether they like the pizza or not. Domino’s is a franchise. Each Domino’s Pizza is independently owned and operated, but buys from the main business and kicks back a percentage of profits towards an advertising and marketing fund.

I don’ t think I am ancient, but I do remember when Domino’s Pizza went national. I was a kid. Believe it or not, it was the first high-profile big brand pizza to go national. One-eight-hundred-dominos (1800-D-O-M-I-N-O-S). I hated it, because it wasn’t at all like New York pizza. By the time I moved into a dorm in Ohio, it was very popular. When I visited friends in NYC, they liked it for the take-out expediency, but didn’t consider it “real pizza”.

When we think of Domino’s, we think of the pizza we like (not necessarily Domino’s pizza), and we think of Domino’s advertising, and that Domino’s delivers in 30 minutes. Red white and blue box.  Big lighted signs. Coupons in the mailbox. Little cars with big plastic Domino’s signs attached with rubber bands. Television commercials. Whether you like Domino’s pizza or Sals’ or Tony’s, you may settle for Domino’s simply because “Domino’s Delivers”.

Did you see the  latest “Domino doors” advertising? It’s great. Domino’s Pizza Delivers, so now Domino’s is putting doors (delivery points) in parks and other public spaces, so people can order pizza and have it delivered in 30 minutes or less, even though they aren’t home. Back to basics, a brilliant move for our cell phone era.

In August, Marketing Direct interviewed Robin Auld, Domino’s Marketing Director in Europe. The killer question asked? What is the most important marketing channel for Domino’s. Would you believe the answer was search marketing?

Q: Email, direct mail, door drops, what’s the most powerful acquisition channel for Dominos?

A: In terms of acquisition I would have to say search marketing online; we do pay-per-click (PPC) and also search engine optimisation as well. People go to Google and search for pizza so it’s important that Domino’s is up there.

Search engine optimization (SEO) at the top of the list of most important marketing channels. And this from the guys who produce all that amazing advertising, beautiful branding, direct communications like door-to-door coupon drops, dedicated promotional trucks sent to community events, and the clever “Domino Doors” campaign sweeping Europe (helping us forget that  that US Domino’s employee arrest fiasco earlier this year).

Take away? Search marketing is essential, even for the biggest budget brands. Read the interview to see a bit more about Domino’s PPC and SEO targets.

Google Owns Your Internets

For years I’ve pointed out that Google consistently acts to disintermediate web publishers. For years I’ve noted how Google, while saying that we are all friends, reliably “improves” Google’s services in ways which force webmasters to eliminate their own interest in the dissemination of what they publish. The “nickels from Google” may add up to tens of thousands of dollars for some publishers, when you aggregate all those hard-earned page views and ad clicks, but the profits are not sufficient to support publishing. They support Google, and they support aggressive innovators (right now). Google has us all in the cross hairs. We are the future profit sources for Google.

One tactic of any PR machine is to engage the enemy in conversation. Debate even. It keeps everyone busy. There is so much to talk about… microformats being one huge current trend supported by Google, which serves to quite effectively disintermediate publishers. “Please wrap your content into neat little tags, so we can easily parse it” asks Google. The nickels will come soon enough.. rewards for compliance. And the scammers innovators will go “all in” on the new opportunities, and we’ll see pictures on DailyBooth of big fat smiles with big fat Google checks, and pictures of Yachts named “Google Me” and Maserati’s and Bentley’s and bling bling bling buy my program and learn how you, too can profit from Google!

If I start debating these things, I’ll be distracted. I won’t be able to also see the forest… to see the impending damage on the horizon. Everyone is amazed at Google’s progress. Meanwhile, the real issues of economic stability and industry infrastructure are secondary to the awe with which technology (led by Google) decimates our work environments. Google’s amazing. Our modern civilization is only hundreds of years old, but in that past if any “company” had ever worked to wipe out industries and destroy people’s livelihoods, they would have faced mobs with pitchforks. People would have been scared, politicians motivated, and war machines activated. Of course they probably would have been overrun and decimated by a beast as powerful as Google, but they would not have been blind to their fate as we seem to be today.

It’s easy to write an article about how amazing or how ominous Google is. It’s hard to figure out just how bad this will get for all of us non-Googlers (i.e. people who don’t work for Google). Of course Google (the machine) would love us to keep busy like that.

Everytime someone from Google speaks, we need to listen carefully. Eric Schmidt’s latest comments reported by TechCrunch include this little gem. He was asked to look 10 years out, and what the future Google looks like. He answers that Google will determine the best, most authoritative site for a given question, read it, and summarize it back to the Google user as “the answer”:

“So I don’t know how to characterize the next 10 years except to say that we’ll get to the point – the long-term goal is to be able to give you one answer, which is exactly the right answer over time…what I’d like to do is to get to the point where we could read his site [the definitive authority on a particular searched query] and then summarize what it says, and answer the question”

I cut out some because the answers were reported almost verbatum, with roundabout thoughts and an example in the middle. Read it for yourself if you like.

Eric Schmidt, the guy who thinks Wikipedia is the greatest gift to mankind ever created by man, has web publishers (and domain owners) in his cross hairs. If Google succeeds, no one needs a domain name and no one needs to create a brand. They just need to submit to Google, and then, perhaps if Google has not completely satisfied the users with “the answer”, provide a way to be contacted or a server IP for a web site for further reading (perhaps through the Google Profile conduit).

Eric Schmidt is a technologist, and geeks (relatively speaking) are poorly schooled in political and social aspects of reality. But is he really clueless? He’s CEO of one of the world’s most powerful companies. . I can’t believe he’s dumb enough to not think through the eventual outcome of his aggressive behavior… that he hasn’t considered that this is not a technological world, but a world of people. That people need to get along and compromise, and that we have been lucky enough to evolve a fragile economy based on our human interactions (not computer transactions) with less than the possible amount of war waging. Some call that “civilization”.

Civilization requires a ton of work, and most of that work is “talking”. History shows us that failure of communications, refusal to talk,  failure of educataion with respect to tolerance and cultural differences, and strong arm approaches that devalue human interaction and force a will upon others, lead to unreasonable behavior (terrorism, war, disobedience, etc). Does Eric Schmidt think the world is ready for one global economy and culture? Does he think the masses are so educated and appreciative of knowledge that they will choose one great website for answers at a cost of say food for their families or stable employment?

Ten years out is 2019. Many of you will be “mid career” by then. Between now and then, are you prepared for a Google that collects, analyzes, and summarizes what you publish, using your work to serve 80% of the world’s Internet users without your involvement? Think about it. Just how much are you giving away by allowing Google to own the Internet?

To Be or to Not Be: that Seems to Be the Question

In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, “to be or not to be” was the question. The first line is so familiar:

To be, or not to be: that is the question:

and the first section adored, and often memorized by adherent high schoolers:

To be, or not to be: that is the question: Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them? To die: to sleep; No more; and by a sleep to say we end the heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to, ’tis a consummation devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep; To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub; For in that sleep of death what dreams may come when we have shuffled off this mortal coil, must give us pause: here’s the respect that makes calamity of so long life;

Scholars and academics continue to study and interpret Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Many a Ph.D. dissertation has focused on it, and sometimes the interpretations stretch pretty far, making for entertaining reading. For the rest of us non-academics, and especially those of us living the definition of web entrepreneur, I think Hamlet should be re-considered. If I could be so bold as to suggest a modification to Shakespeare’s work (and I’ll only change the first line), I think it fits our modern age perfectly. Because I see this behavior over and over in potential entrepreneurs, I’ll take license and change “to be or not to be: that is the question” into “to be or to not be: that seems to be the question“. The rest remains appropriate.

Over and over I meet potential and moderately successful entrepreneurs struggling with the question Hamlet raised. Their actions are well described by that entire section above. But I suppose that is my interpretation of Hamlet. It differs from most I have read (I haven’t read many, mind you). It fits an inordinate number of entrepreneurs I meet. What drives your passion? Is it to Be, or is it to not be?

There are  few ways to think of this. The obvious : “Do you really want to succeed, or do you simply fear failure?” does indeed apply sometimes. But so does the less obvious (but more prevalent) “do you have a target for what you want to be, or are you working hard trying to not be something else?” I see a lot of people holding back in order to not be something.

There are plenty of psychologists ready to discuss your personal self image, your mental imprint of the meaning of life, the baggage you bring from your past relationships (including family) and your “inherited” fears and quirks. All good stuff that needs to be tidied up. But what I see is more specific: I see people who say they want to “succeed”, but are quick to point out negatives with a follow-on “but I don’t want to _____________“. The blank filled in with characterizations of ugliness. They want to sell a lot of product, but don’t want to cheat anyone. They want to market their services, but don’t want to be too pushy. They want to sell, but don’t want to lie. They want to innovate, but not be unethical (or immoral). They want to succeed, but…

To be or to not be. Where is the passionate energy going?

The biggest successes wanted to Be. They were after achievement. They wanted, whether that was a benevolent want (Mother Theresa wanted to help others?) or a selfish want (Malcolm Forbes wanted to be rich and famous?). For many, the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” were unfortunate side effects to be suffered, or corrected after the fact through philanthropy.

Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles” perfectly describes what some blossoming entrepreneurs go through. Considering “outrageous fortune” to be wealth, is it more noble to get rich (despite the scorn some may cast upon you for being “filthy rich”) or is it more noble to deal with life’s burdens like everyman must? Maybe Hamlet’s “sea of troubles” is the common man’s suffering. The bills that need to be paid.

Entrepreneur Hamlet continues to suggest that quitting, or accepting common suffering, leaves one ultimately defeated (since without wealth one simply cannot defeat an economic system designed to enslave him). But he astutely notes that the desired peace and calm associated with having given up a struggle, will never arrive. And that’s the rub! Once you give up, you don’t find peace (as if to die) but instead you start to dream again. Free of the struggle, you are once again not only able to dream but you can’t help but dream. Because you are an entrepreneur. And what do you dream of? Potential success! Ahhh.. life is a cruel mistress!

“to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, ’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub;”

Hamlet understood the curse of the entrepreneur. He referred to the calamity of a long life. The desires don’t go away. An entrepreneur will always see a different path, and want to follow it. An entrepreneur wants to know how deep the rabbit hole goes.

Enough about Hamlet; what about you?

  • You say you want to sell Widgets. But you rarely speak to your potential customers, rarely influence them to buy, and spend most of your time in XHTML or re-design meetings. You don’t like to be pushy, apparently. To be, or to not be?
  • You say you want to rank at the top of search engines, but when shown that better or more links are needed, you choose instead to re-design your home page (again). You don’t want to violate Google guidelines with questionable links, you say, as you double up your design efforts. To Be or to Not Be?
  • You recognize that you need to build relationships in the marketplace, in order to succeed as a leader, so you join Social Media. And then you follow everyone. You don’t want to be an attention whore, apparently. To be, or to not be?

and my favorite…

  • You say you want to be #1 in search engines for (generic word) but you don’t want to change your site so it represents a comprehensive and definitive answer for searches for (generic word).

Later this month a group of entrepreneurs will gather at Think Tank in Del Mar, California. I think Hamlet should come to Think Tank, and stand on the rocks of Del Mar beach reciting his soliloquy out loud (with my modification).

If you want to achieve, you can be who you are, or you can work to become who you want to be, but you must be someone. To be no one, unhappy as yourself, dreaming of being different, while holding back for fear of becoming something, is to waste your life.

Hamlet suffered for us already, and explained it clearly. Take his advice. If you have the passion to Be, do what it takes to become. If you feel in your heart that you were meant to be someone, then it is your destiny to give up convention and try to become who you are meant to be. Forget what others think. Forget the rules. Suffer the slings and arrows if necessary. Note the unfortunate side effects, to be managed later. But be true to yourself. For those given the gift, there is nothing nobler. The rest need you to try, and will reward your success.

SEO goes back Underground in 2009

I think 2009 is the year SEO went back underground.

I come to this realization through the back door. While trying to understand how so many “SEO websites” seem to succeed with their audiences, while publishing poor quality or low value content, it dawned on me that the continuing growth of the bottom of the SEO industry in 2009 (the new people) has overshadowed the transition away from public disclosure of real SEO knowledge. That, combined with the aging of the original SEO practitioners (the ones in those ancient closed-door communities, who rarely show up any more, and always via a name drop by their friends) has left us with junk.

Search any current SEO topic and review the results. Nice designs, lots of supporting testimonials, plenty of “awesome article” and “thanks for this essential reference for our industry” type comments. But look closely at the “information” published and you might find (as I have), very little. Not much fact. Lots of fluff and conjecture. Lots of soft statements that really don’t say anything concrete, and often say things which are incorrect, if taken as written. And I have considerable knowledge and experience with the material, so I assume I am qualified to conduct such a review.

Over the past few years many of my friends have left the public SEO world and gone back to their own communities and work. But I have continued to try and make new friends. Now I am noticing that most of those new friends, who clearly have extensive knowledge and experience, do not publish anything. I see them in social media, keeping in touch, and I see them in person at conferences. But they don’t write about SEO. SEO has gone back underground.

Which leaves me wondering what will happen when the still public SEO websites are completely free to say whatever they want, to accolades from their adoring (and non-critical) fans. I think I know what will happen. They will become authorities. They will become standards bodies, free to say how it is, unchallenged. And if any of them are any good at this communications game, they will band together and brand anyone who criticizes them as, well, pick a label: crazy, stubborn, a h8tr, grumpy, deceptive, unbalanced, or any of a number of adjectives intended to discredit. That’s how propaganda works.

Worse still, if the consumer marketplace buys the junk info, which they may simply because a Google search turns up little more than that junk info, then the providers of said junk become more powerful. Authority gets granted.

The smarter/slimier of them will spread the wealth around their fan bases (typically in the form of kickbacks and referrals), to cement their support. In the short term, they win “power” and their followers earn profitable gigs. In the long run, the marketplace will suffer as customers experience low quality product and discover how inaccurate/misleading the published information really was.

This is all good for those who went underground. Less real competition, and less distractions. Google also wins.

There are many ways for an SEO to “go underground” in this context:

  • stop working on others’ projects and focus on wholly-owned projects
  • collaborate with associates to build out specific projects (partially owned)
  • focus on a narrow vertical marketplace where demand for state of the art SEO is lower
  • build a search marketing community and sell into it, instead of actually doing search marketing
  • publish software tools for sale to the seo marketplace or direct to consumers
  • partner with industry leaders to make over affiliate programs and search marketing strategies, profit sharing
  • start one or more small “firms” as partnerships, staffed by young ‘uns willing to work hard in “startup mode” for equity

That’s just a sampling… and the next step for me is to wonder, what happens when all of these endeavors stop performing, based on established SEO tactics? Will these players continue to conduct their own SEO research along the way, or keep coming back (and kicking back into) the community hoping to buy knowledge? Lots to think about…

David Rosenfeld, Lawyer

I think it’s important that we know the actual people involved in the current massive scams in the US. One identified in a Truthdig.com article is David Rosenfeld, a lawyer for the Securities and Exchange Commission (the SEC).

In a nutshell, Bank of America used $45 billion in taxpayer funds to take over the failed brokerage house Merrill Lynch. As part of that deal, six hundred ninety-six executives (696) “who helped run Merrill into the ground were granted more than a million bucks each” as bonuses. That’s a lot more than $696 million of your tax dollars. IN ADDITION TO THAT, another 39,000 Merrill employees were given an average bonus of $91,000 (just in case you were thinking it was a small number of elite bankers getting big bonuses). And this was apparently not disclosed to shareholders nor the public, which was apparently illegal.

The SEC lawyer David Rosenfeld appeared before a judge asking to fine Bank of America for misleading its shareholders, but that fine was less than  the bonus received by just ONE Merrill Lynch executive. On your behalf, funded by your government, this lawyer cut a deal to allow them your tax money, in exchange for a small fine.

I think we should fire David Rosenfeld and his boss for incompetence.

I think it is increasingly important for everyone to identify and recognize the individuals behind all of the confusion obfuscating the raiding of the US tax dollars. I agree with many of the capitalists amongst us that the rich aren’t defacto responsible for funding the poor. However, I also recognize how easy it is to slip theft, corruption, and abuse of the public trust past us while we are distracted by propaganda along those lines. Maybe we should hold the people responsible, accountable.

Google Caffeine SEO Notes

Since the SEO News industry has become so noisy (with lots of well-titled posts hyping mostly empty articles), and the major news sites are apparently jumping to publish first with such headlines, using similarly low-value content, it’s not easy to find real content about Google’s new “caffeine” indexing system. Google says it’s a big deal:

“For the last several months, a large team of Googlers has been working on a secret project: a next-generation architecture for Google’s web search. It’s the first step in a process that will let us push the envelope on size, indexing speed, accuracy, comprehensiveness and other dimensions. The new infrastructure sits ‘under the hood’ of Google’s search engine, which means that most users won’t notice a difference in search results. But web developers and power searchers might notice a few differences, so we’re opening up a web developer preview to collect feedback.”

Matt Cutts says this is a complete rewrite of many parts of the Google indexing system, and that it’s fundamentally a big change.  He suggests caution and asks for feedback via an alpha review, and says Google plans to deploy it on one data center first for evaluations, before depoying it completely. According to Matt,  “whenever you change SO MUCH stuff under the hood…” you need to move forward carefully.

There is some speculation that this will form a basis for the Google’s annual “screw the affiliates right around Thanksgiving, to have maximum impact on the holiday sales season” effort this year. If that’s true, I suppose it’s a good sign that Google finally recognizes the importance of such huge changes, and the need for more than a week or two of lead time.  It also makes sense that Matt’s out front handling PR on this, since he has to face the webmasters at Pubcon in November.

I have yet to see any meaningful discussion of this new Google on the web, beyond basic observations on a few specific searches. But I’ll keep watching.

In the mean time I’m aggregating references on Google’s “Caffeine” update and what it might mean for search engine optimization (SEO) efforts. If you know of a meaningful article about Google’s Caffeine update, that would be interesting to SEOs, please note it in a comment.

For starters:

Palm on Pal Pre Privacy: We’re Just as Slimy as the Rest of our Industry

It seems Palm has decided that they are OK with being slimy about undisclosed privacy and user tracking. Give a chance to comment on the recent expose about detailed user tracking buried inside the Palm Pre, they tell us (paraphrasing) “everybody does it” and “we’re happy our users trust us”.

MobileCrunch re-highlighted this news from a CNET article, but goes easy on Palm, while exposing how they track users location, what applications they have been using, what applications they have installed on the Pre (including those not authorized by Palm), and other personal data unique to the user’s Palm Pre. If you read the article literally, it is almost as if they had been threatened by Palm and were treading lightly.. exposing but being careful to not openly suggest the Palm Pre was a privacy-invading abuse of consumers.

The Economist wrote about cell phone tracking, and location-based services do indeed need to report back location in order to deliver maps, directions, etc. But they don’t need to report back all that other personal data that Palm is collecting from Palm Pre users.  According to the MobileCrunch article:

When it comes to location tracking and device activity, you must alert the user and specifically request permission. If you don’t, you are spying, plain and simple. Regardless of what Palm is doing with this data, the user needs to be completely aware that it is being sent.

Palm seems to disagree. See this excerpt from Palm response (emphasis added):

Our privacy policy is like many policies in the industry and includes very detailed language about potential scenarios in which we might use a customer’s information, all toward a goal of offering a great user experience. For instance, when location based services are used, we collect their information to give them relevant local results in Google Maps. We appreciate the trust that users give us with their information, and have no intention to violate that trust.

They have no intention to violate your trust! How re-assuring, no? How about if a vendor asked you for your social security number and mother’s maiden name, and assured you they had no intention of violating your trust?

I have a follow up question for Palm. One day, when a Junior Marketing Executive at Palm gets a brilliant idea to exploit some of that juicy data, will Palm notify me of their new intent to violate my trust? I know they don’t have to, that’s the whole point.

Believe it or not, they’ve got that covered in the Privacy Policy as well. The default is that they can do whatever they want under that elastic justification “to enhance your device experience“. The lawyers make it sound less abusive by adding “For changes that are materially less restrictive or protective of your personal information than the privacy policy in place at the time of collection, we will seek your consent before implementing any such change.” Hard to imagine a case where they make an open, elastic data use agreement more restrictive, if that is even possible.

Scrutinize the Palm Pre Privacy Policy here, but be careful because Palm lawyers are just as clever as the rest of the lawyers in this industry: “We reserve the right to change our privacy policy. Please check our website periodically for changes…

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?

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.

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

Google’s Plan to “Serve Webmasters”

I loved this. Marshall Sponder over at Web Metrics Guru gathered up a collection of recent observations about Google’s abuse of webmasters (including my SEO Tools post), and included this classic Twilight Zone video… too awesome.. I simply had to re-post it here.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WudBfRa0ETw]

It is critically important that we all keep an eye on the Google Borg, but I don’t feel as helpless as the chap in the rocket ship getting ready for his last meal (which he won’t get to eat). When Barack Obama took office he reminded his supporters that they now had an even tougher job — they had to make him to what he promised to do. That’s the naked truth of politics, and market-driven business. He said what he had to say to get elected, and how he will only do what you make him do… because there are others trying to make him to something else.

Google will do whatever it has to do to make as much money as it can. It is a publicly-owned, for-profit entity. Only when the market resists, and threatens the success, will Google adjust its course.  That’s not quite as dire a situation as the Twilight Zone portrays, but Marshall scored himself one seriously funny association with that…

We’re All SEO Tools

SEO is Dead: Long Live Competitive Webmastering

My friends at OutspokenMedia just published an outline of their SEO audit process. It looks exactly like what should be in a webmastering 101 course. From my perspective, it has nothing to do with search engine optimization, except that search engines control the flow of almost all of the Internet’s traffic these days. That these SEO audit points are actually just good webmastering is an important distinction to make, because every time we treat SEO as a unique entity, we grant Google more authority over the Internet. Why do we do keep doing that?

Every time we consider something “improper” because it doesn’t help or perhaps hinders search, we support the search engines in their manipulation of the Internet. This blog of mine is for experienced SEO people, so I don’t explain everything in great detail for the lay person, but it is very clear that Google stifles innovation on the Internet so that it can control traffic flows and the profits associated with that traffic. It is very clear that Google acts as a censor for public dissemination of freely-published materials, and it is becoming more clear that the popularity of SEO is helping Google (and the other search engines) further their control and censorship at all of our expense.

Honestly, did you ever really believe that a commercial entity claiming to want to “organize all of the world’s information” would be unbiased, altruistic and benevolent?

If you feel like throwing up after reading that Wall Street investment banking firm Goldman Sachs is now giving out $20 billion in bonuses (averaging $700,000 per employee this year — Google it), you should really enjoy a look at Google’s profits and the economic impact Google’s manipulation of the web has had on our economy. Unfortunately, you’ll have to wait a few more years for the economists to put all those numbers together. If you ask me, the smartest thing other countries have done and can do going forward, is block Google entry into their markets until those analyses are available.

In the mean time, let’s try and understand how SEO is adding to the problem. Here is the Outspoken Media list, with my annotations showing why these issues should be discretionary for web publishers, were they not being manipulated by Google:

Duplicate content: I am free to publish the same paragraph twice, or the same article twice. I might do that to reach my audience, who may be reading my web site via different paths. But Google uses an algorithm to penalize duplicate content. They say it’s not a “penalty” but from a publisher/media perspective, it is a penalty.

If I publish my editorial on the home page of my site, and again on the Editorial Page, Google will decide which one to index and offer in the search results, based not on my publishing objectives, but Google’s own algorithm.

The solution recommended by SEO experts? A complicated re-review of my publishing model, looking not only at my visitors and their attention/reading habits, but whether factors like incoming links from other sights will cause Google to remove my home page from the search index. This is abhorrent business behavior by Google, and one of many examples of how Google is an aggressive, profit-driven abuser of the free and open Internet, and unworthy of our support. Yet, we support them and even go so far as to say that the proper way to publish is to defer to Google’s desires.

Redirect issues: A redirect is a technical solution to a common problem: the desired information has been moved to another URL. Done properly, the user looking for Article X gets forwarded to where Article X can be found. The SEO audit looks for “redirect issues”, including technically incorrect implementations. That’s good webmastering, not SEO. But the SEO also looks to see that 301 or 302 redirects are used, according to Google’s guidelines on the use of redirects. Google claims some redirects that are proper by webmastering standards are “wrong” and the Google guidelines state that not following those guidelines can get you penalized (even if you follow proper HTML standards). Once again, we see Google setting a new standard in its favor, without compromising through participation in the democratic standards setting processes. Good web citizen? Hardly. Yet, we seem to support it.

Indexing/crawl issues: Good webmastering should not prevent spidering or crawling of web content by search engines. Any “indexing issues” are entirely based in the search engine and its approach to the web. If you are not indexed and want to be, then yes, you need to deal with the search engines doing the indexing. In the long run, this pure search engine issue is really a government and societal issue, having to do with civil rights (equal access to information) and responsible government (upholding the public trust). Sadly, we are a ways off from addressing those broader concerns.

Improper categorization: The publisher decides how to categorize the published content. Good webmastering achieves the goals of the publisher. Only when we start to look at the specific ways that search engines index the content, do we start to consider some forms of categorization “improper” (or sub-optimal). Again, until society works through its dependencies on private for-profit companies like Google for universal information access, we suffer the whims of Google abuse and have to turn to specialists for help navigating those treacherous waters.

Crappy title tags: I’m not sure what “title tags” are, but the title element is a very important part of SEO and a very minor part of publishing. Each page has one title element, which is displayed in the blue bar at the top of most rendered screens (in browsers). Title elements offer little value to the publisher, because users ignore them. Google actually thinks title elements have no value at all to the reader, and dropped them completely from display in the Google browser rendering. However, Google has co-opted the HTML standard once again, and made title elements critically important for SEO.

Crappy meta descriptions: meta description tags are another part of HTML standard, and are invisible to the reader. Once again publishers need only pay attention to these if they are following Google or other search engine guidelines, for some specific reason (such as getting traffic from Google). Since they are part of the HTML specification, good webmastering should ensure these meta tags are present and proper, by publishing standards.

Usability problems: Usability is an art and science dedicated to users, not search engines. Not sure why this is in an SEO audit, but of course good competitive webmastering is concerned with usability. I know Google sometimes falls back on a general “good for users” usability argument when pushing involuntary standards onto webmasters, but they also violate that logic frequently. Publishers should make good websites for their readers…. and if they don’t their readers will let them know via the free market. With Google, that free market goes away because Google might decide not to send you any of that market traffic in the first place.

Conversion problems: just like usability… not an SEO issue, but of concern to publishers and competitive webmasters.

Keyword research/Keyword density: the entire field of keyword research developed around search engines and their private, unilaterally imposed policies. If you are catering to search engines, you need an SEO and keyword researcher. But there is no reason why publishers (masters of language and communication, at least if they survive in a free marketplace) need a third party to tell them what words to use in their documents.

Internal linking strategies, anchor text, and Sitemaps: This is another example where Google corrupts the publishing process for commercial gain, and is empowered to do so by the marketplace’s adoption of SEO and other Google-imposed bastardizations of content publishing. A publisher naturally adds navigation to its content to serve the users. Newspapers and books have had page numbers for that purpose for as long as I can remember.

Poor navigation technology or internal linking is a webmastering quality issue. Improper linking with respect to publishing goals is a business issue.

When Google starts to manipulate that process, in ways that hinder, stifle, or corrupt the free press, Google is not only interfering with market dynamics which are known to improve the marketplace over time, but artificially supporting market practices which can hurt a market over time. This is just one example of this very serious issue that few are acknowledging… those economic analyses we will receive in a few years will prove this.

When a publisher starts to play with XML sitemaps at the request of search engines, that extra work is injected into the system at a cost to the publisher but generates profit for the search engine. That, by very definition, decreases productivity, and can be considered one of many cost externalizations the search engines have achieved over the years while the SEO industry has supported their market manipulations.

External linking strategies and anchor text: External linking strategies only exist because of search engine’s corruption of the publishing process. Otherwise, external linking (and anchor text) is a free market innovation, outside of the purview of the content publisher (it is others, external, who make those links to your content). If you want to start to understand how Google stifles innovation, and recognize how Google is one of the worst web citizens the web has ever encountered, start with linking.

Site architecture and URLs: Again, this is a good webmastering issue and success should align with the achievement of publishing goals. To the extent that SEO intervention is needed beyond good webmastering or alignment of publishing with business goals, that intervention is necessary only because of search engine imposed restrictions. More stifling of innovation. Society needs to address the value of that, just as they need to re-evaluate the value of the current Federal Trade Commission (FTC) here in the states.

Nofollow, disallow, noindex: these are directives for use with robots.txt and certain meta tags, and are part of Google webmastering, again serving business goals. To the extent that intervention is needed by an SEO, it is solely because search engines have corrupted the normal standards process. If doing it properly doesn’t achieve results in the marketplace because of specific search engine imposed restrictions, then what other choice is available but stepping in line and changing to accommodate the search engines? Stifling it is… as established.

Social media indicators: Another thing that belongs on the publishing side and not an SEO audit list, Social Media involves webmastering when the business goals are supported by a publishing strategy. This has nothing to do with SEO, until search engines corrupt the free market dynamics and establish guidelines for how society should behave. Which they have.

You might recognize this as Google’s clearest intrusion into society and behavior to date, but my perspective suggests the destruction of linking was more damaging. Also the sharing of aggregate user data with other entities is disgusting. Social Media on an SEO audit list? What has this world come to… and perhaps more importantly, why are we lining up and supporting it?

The answer, I’m afraid involves politics, something technical people have never really liked and often choose to ignore. As a result of our (in)actions, we get the web we have and the web that’s coming, instead of the web we all imaging could be when it all started, and probably still dream might be as each new, cool, innovation comes onto our radar screens. Radar screens which, by the way, are controlled by Google.

What can you do?

Don’t use Chrome. Wait for Firefox to catch up, or use Opera (it’s wicked fast).

Don’t use Google Analytics. It’s priceless as a business tool for Google, so if you don’t use it for some reason, Google will be forced to pay attention to the reasons.

Don’t use Google. Use bing.com or Yahoo.com or rely on friend’s recommendations. If you gave Bing every other search you currently do on Google, Bing would have 50% market share. Yes, that’s the power you have.

Chat with your local political representative. Just because you approach him, he’ll have to pay more attention to you. That’s how it works. Let him know you are afraid of Google having too much power, and are thinking it’s time to start paying attention before it’s too late.

Block Google analytics spying on your system. You can do it easily via a few means. When you do this, every site you visit that uses GA will not report your visit back to Google. It’s a simple step that can go a very long way towards improving things on the web.

I recommend you ask your Social Media circles for advice on “how can I block Google analytics? Thanks“. And once you do it, pass it along with a tweet “here’s how you block Google analytics spying on you -link“. Go ahead. Help yourself, and help others.

Structured Data, Microformats, and SEO

The other day I suggested that Google was way ahead of SEOs. After receiving a few emails asking me “what do you mean?” and “What are they working on that we don’t already address?” I decided to step back and ask Social Media to do the leg work on this one. I am not an SEO Tools vendor, so it is very hard for me to justify publishing insights into competitive search engine optimization. The only rewards for doing that seem to be free speaking gigs at Pubcon and SMX, kudos from up-and-coming SEO peers, and high follower counts (which I’m not monetizing).

I’l let the writers and promoters in the SEO community create the “Ten Ways to SEO with Structured Data” and “10 Myths about Microformats and SEO” and “How to Rocket Your Sales and Boost Your Traffic with Microformats” posts. I’m an SEO. I’m busy implementing. So I’ll just report the following:

  • Search engines have invested a great deal of effort into structured data (including micro formats), including naturally structured content (parsing and understanding our natural content) and artificially structured data (such as those addressed by webmaster guidelines or requirements, or emerging standards)
  • Like it or not, your published content is and has for some time been parsed according to rules of structure, some of which has been used to assign relevance scores and adjust search engine inclusion as well as ranking
  • Many SEO bloggers still reveal through their writing that they don’t understand how Google considers web sites like blogs, directories, and portals differently than say brochure sites or forums. I doubt they are in a position to speak with authority when they suggest that certain aspects of content impact/improve/detract from search optimization. Careful what you trust when you read your daily SEO feed. Just because they are your friends does not mean they are correct with their SEO presumptions.
  • Google is not the only game in town, and certainly not the most committed dependent upon structured data. Bing is of all things a major structured data play, as was Wolfram’s engine. Business.com is in financial trouble, but not because it didn’t do a good job structuring its data. Following the new rules for making your data accessible to search engines is not necessarily a high road to profits, and may be just the opposite.

The more you structure your data, the easier you are to disintermediate. BUT, the less search referred traffic you get in this search-engine-controlled marketplace, the less likely you are to survive. Sensing the icy cold sting of the double-edged sword? Of course you are…

In tough economic times, those with the power exercise it. Google’s virtual monopoly of the search box, Microsoft’s virtual monopoly of the desktop, and the Yahoo! emerging virtual monopoly on the crossover of tabloid press and social media? Every one of them needs your participation. Every aspect of that participation can be commoditized if it can be structured. Webmasters have responded to nickel rewards for years now with Google’s AdSense program, so why shouldn’t these players expect you to respond to promises of search traffic?

Go forth into Social Media and start talking about the future of SEO in light of the present status of search engines and audience participation:

Q: Does structured data improve SEO outcomes?

Q: Do micro formats enhance local? Do microformats improve SEO?
Q: Do sitemaps and webmaster consoles and content guidelines really help webmasters get indexed and rank, or is that a myth supported by incomplete, misguided, or sloppy SEO reporting?

If you try to actually investigate for yourself, and work at it beyond the basics, you just may find yourself enjoying actual, honest SEO work.

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]

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…

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)

Hey Affiliates – Screw You! (pass it on)

If this new ICANN proposal called “Rapid Suspension System” goes through, I can cheaply file a complaint to get your affiliate landing pages taken down immediately. Shoot first and ask questions later! Think about that… I file for next to nothing, claim your Acai-berri site is confusingly similar to my Acai-beari site, and your landing page goes “bye bye” while your PPC campaigns click away into the red. Don’t even think about arguing… it goes off line FIRST (I’ll make sure it’s on a Friday at 4:45pm heh heh).

Send an email to ICANN right NOW saying “no way to rapid dispute system”(mailto:) it could save your future.

When opportunity knocks you have to answer. This time, it’s a “negative knock”. That means if you don’t answer, you don’t just miss an opportunity but lose out later, when the consequences of your inaction hit you smack in the face. Luckily, this one is easy. It’s a simple email. If you’re smart, you’ll send one right now.

What’s the opportunity? How about an opportunity not to have to battle Joe-abusive when he has your domain taken offline?  There’s a proposal on the table that would make it dirt cheap and simple for just about anyone to file a claim that YOUR domain name infringes on their trademark, and to have your website immediately taken down.

The existing dispute process for internet web sites (domains) costs about $1600 bucks. A trademark holder has to make a case for why your web site is infringing on their trademark, before they can get anything changed. And of course you have a right to answer the complaint. This process keeps things “civil”…. it takes effort and some money to acuse you, and you can respond reasonably (or tell them to take a walk) with no cost. Only after a claim has been made, debated, and judged, does your website come down.

We also have the DMCA, which can be used for more immediate concerns (but which also has a penalty for mis-use).

But now a lobby group for big corporations has pushed to change the  system so they can get your site taken down for a few dollars, based on their claim that it infringes. What do you think? Do you agree with me that this would mean constant headaches for you?  Bad idea.

So tell them so. Just send an email to irt-final-report@icann.org and say “No way! Bad idea!” and tell them you do NOT support this “Uniform Rapid Suspension System”.

I have a website I’ve used for email and a home page for about 8 years, which is a clever twist on a word. I have received  inquiries from companies over the years, because they, too use that same clever twist on the word. They have asked about buying it from me, asked whether I would link to them, or if I would help promote their products (for free). They have never filed a dispute claim because I would probably win and they don’t want to waste $1600. Even though I never trademarked it, I had it first, and it is not (despite their wishes) truly infringing on their trademarks. Under this new proposal, they could take my site offline immediately at almost no cost to themselves. Is that fair? Think about the leverage they would gain if that was a revenue producing site. For each day it was off line, it would be costing ME money, putting pressure on ME to negotiate out of the mess that I had nothing to do with in the first place. When I think like a dirty bastard, I imaging all sorts of cute ways this could be used as an anti competitive  tactic in the affiliate world!

Just think of all of the affiliate sites that could be immediately taken off line because some company claims the websites are “confusingly similar” or files some other grey area complaint, knowing they don’t need to actually make a case, just file a complaint. THINK OF THE LOST PPC REVENUES when your landing page goes offline but you don’t know it!

This is pretty important -send an email TODAY and let ICANN know you won’t tolerate big business telling us how the Internet will be managed. Do it now, because in a few weeks, it might be too late, and you’ll probably regret it as your web sites get  taken down.

Perhaps most important, pass the word. Let everyone in online marketing know about this a.s.a.p. because this is under consideration NOW and the comment period closes in JUNE!

Update: Okay I’m rewriting this… I noted in this update how Shawn Collins podcast got this all wrong, but I’ll grant that a conversational podcast is not the best format for accurate reporting. I’ll also grant that I didn’t want to spend all day arguing about it, so I’m re-thinking how I shall handle this.I saved everything and will review it more carefully.. might even make a transcript. I saved Shawn’s comment in moderation since it just furthered the confusion. I’ll release it when I update or if Shawn wants me to, although I doubt he does.
For those who followed along, One: I feel disrespected by the “swine flu” reference. Two: one of the self-proclaimed leaders of the affiliate industry decided to address the issue in front of his audience, while showing that he doesn’t understand the issue and doesn’t respect those giving it attention. That means it is my civic duty to either call him out on it (a.k.a. challenge the authority) or find out why, and three: I’m not sure how important that fact is, or how much time it deserves.

How to be a Better Entrepreneur

It seems every week some hustling web entrepreneur publishes a new “blog post” about how to be a better entrepreneur, how to be more successful, how to make more money, etc. These are expensive if you read them — they waste a lot of your time. Success is not about money, but they don’t know that, and so they are not really worth listening to, are they?

I just revisited an old Jason Calacanis comment about SEO / affiliate people being really smart but small time… that in his eyes, they were not really successful because they didn’t make the big plays (like he does?). Sad… really sad.

I suppose not everyone appreciates that there are plenty of words of wisdom already published by masters of language and communication, often packaged in enjoyable wrappers. You can get them on your Kindle, or at your local library if you area small-timer like me.

Here’s one of my favorites:

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with wornout tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings – nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run –
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man my son!

That’s “If” by Rudyard Kipling.

Shhh…unused domains are worth real money

Last year sometime I said that any domain, if it is wanted by someone, is worth about $1200. That’s the price that justifies a quick buy. Want it? Twelve hundred bucks and it’s yours…. or you can spend a few HOURS looking for another one, a few HUNDRED on consulting fees when your SEO or marketing person “helps”, or about $1200 (nowadays about $1600) to challenge a domain squatter via the dispute process.

Apparently 2009 is the year the aftermarket woke up, as AfternicDLS is now doing $550,000 a week in aftermarket domain sales. The bulk of those are sold between $1000 and $3000 each, and are perfectly useful if not “generic” domains. Someone can use them, so they have value. And getting them now, has value. A few examples:

standardstorage.com $ 988.00
southbeachtans.com $ 1,000.00
commongrace.com $ 1,000.00
healinghaven.com $ 2,588.00
performancescience.com $ 2,788.00
nativehealing.com $ 3,190.00
inventoryliquidators.com $ 4,000.00
skimarketing.com $ 2,100.00
accountingmagic.com $ 1,180.00
designerdoggy.com $ 1,000.00
maryfitzgerald.com $ 1,000.00
premiumdeveloper.com $ 888.00

Now that we have an understandingof the value of an unused (previously registered) domain name, for someone who wants to use it, we need to establish the value of a previously-used domain name (for someone who wants to re-use it).

What is basic SEO performance worth? Another $500 or $1000?

If the name is Google indexed and ranks #1 for itself n Google, what additional value is that worth?

If it ranks for long-tail keywords in the market it obviously serves (for those domains whose names obviously serve specific markets), what additional value does it have?

Note that it is only because of exact-match bonus and pre-existing content/links that a “previously owned” domain will be ranking, but in those cases, it surely has value, right?

Let’s not debate whether or not Google drops domains that change ownership… let’s leave that for risk management, and consider the value of the ranking (if kept). Another… several hundred? Thousand? It would cost at least that to “put back”, not counting the time delays involved.

 

 

 

Mother’s Day 2009 – explained

Okay so it’s been a few weeks and now I will explain this comic for those who don’t get it. It is technical, but relevant so if you’re not a techie you probably don’t get it, but it might still be relevant (if explained).

School calls…of course we know that means little Bobby is in trouble (especially because the school rep said Bobby had some computer trouble, and we know our Bobby is the one who fixes OUR computer troubles). But Mom is quick and sharp… and comes to his defense without pause.

That reference to “Bobby tables”… that’s the key. Because website programmers frequently forget to check incoming data to make sure it is what it is supposed to be, hackers have learned that they can “inject” code into a form field, and that code may actually be run on the back end of the web server.

If a programmer has been sloppy, and left a “NAME: ” field unchecked, for example, typing database code into that field may actually cause the web server to run that database code, instead of taking in the name as it was supposed to do.A clever hacker can jam nonsense into a web form to make it cough up an error message, which usually includes details of the underlying database structure. With that new info, the hacker can craft an “attack” on the database by injecting code into a field like the NAME field.
So here we see little Bobby has entered something other than his name into the NAME field of a web form at school. He actually typed in:

Robert’); DROP TABLE Students;

which, if accepted, would prematurely complete the SQL command behind the web application, telling it to delete the student table from the school’s database. Because the school programmer was lazy (or ignorant), the NAME field was left unchecked (we say “unsanitized”), and the school database left vulnerable to an “SQL injection” like this.

The school is onto little Bobbie. But Mom is very sharp. Without pause, she replies that yes, her boy is known as little “Bobby tables”… a quick cover-up of her son’s exploit attempts. And just to confirm that web security awareness runs in the family, Mom is sure to admonish the school administrator, reminding him of the importance of sanitizing web inputs.

So, to a geek, that’s the Greatest Mom in The World, and another very sharp comic from XKCD. To the rest of you, a friendly reminder to only hire good web programmers, and even then have their work audited by security-aware third parties, to avoid vulnerabilities like this one.

How to Recycle Newspapers

Finally I find an article that does a decent job of noting the importance of business management and strategic vision when discussing “the future of the newspaper industry”. It’s so easy to say old media doesn’t “get it”, is a dinosaur, etc. It takes a brain to say:

So as the giant media conglomerates continue to watch their kingdoms crumble, and the self-styled scribes of truth chronicle their every misstep and blunder, the rest of us will continue to vacuum up their former readers and advertisers. We’ll continue to grow. We’ll continue to adapt. We’ll continue to profit. And we’ll do it all while upholding the standards of journalism that make newspapers so important. And therein lies the future of newspapers – one that’s not so gloomy for everyone.

I think every newspaperman of the period prior to 1990 would have noted that the news business is about people. To those who built all of the “newspapers” owned by the corporate media conglomerates we see crumbling today, I bet this was obvious.  Thank goodness we still have some of those types around, and can expect to see a recycling of newspapers, starting with your local community press.

Coupon Websites: Coupons, Discounts, Promos, and more Coupons!

Coupon sites are everywhere, with no end of proliferation in sight. I feel sorry for the guy who has to estimate market share for these sites, because the visitors are typically jumping between many sites while comparing coupon offers, looking for the best one (often trying multiple promo codes to see if they work, how much they discount, etc).

A small smattering of the coupon/promo/discount/offer sites currently competing for this oddly-not-unique demographic of coupon clippers (please add new ones to commnets, so I can post here):

  • fatWallet.com
  • Offers.com
  • RetailMeKnot.com
  • CouponCabin.com
  • CouponCraze.com
  • BradsDeals.com
  • AnyCoupons.com
  • Savings.com
  • ShopItToMe.com
  • Coupons.com
  • CouponMom.com
  • SmartSource.com
  • AFullCup.com
  • BizyMoms.com
  • AllFreeCoupons.com
  • DealAlert.com
  • DealStop.com
  • HotCouponWorld.com
  • BargainCat.com
  • Bookit.com

I’ll add links as I look at the sites… I don’t want to start off linking out to anything I haven’t looked at myself (some of these were recommended by other articles and news items).

If you use these sites, please comment. If you HATE them (perhaps you are an affiliate), also comment. If you LOVE them, please comment. I’d like to understand the various perspectives. I heard a few radio ads for BookIt.com while I was traveling, and it sounded very compelling. Anyone use it yet? (it’s short-notice travel deals).

Front-end Trimmed Typos as Domain Portfolio Strategy

Trends are important. A research director once pushed me to note a trend in some experimental data; a trend which I did not see myself (despite careful analysis). In the presence of a trend, small subtleties assume importance far beyond their inherent value. Seemingly insignificant experimental findings can be considered very important if a trend can be noted.

I’m now noticing a trend.

Some time ago I worked with some great programmers who solved a problem using javascript. They used js in ways it  was not intended to be used. In fact, the only peer criticism of the resulting working solution was that it exploited a “loophole” in javascript that was clearly a security vulnerability.  “You can’t do that” they said, yet “doing that” solved the practical problem and enabled an important application to work on the Interwebs.

As Paul Mockapetris would say, it “worked in practice, but not in theory“.

Later, the world opened its collective arms to JASON and Ajax, solutions built around extensions of javascript along the very same lines. Entire libraries built with an apparent ignorance of what can’t be done. Security, it seems, can be handled after the fact.

The take-away is that when you see a trend, look for the possibilities despite the risks. Try not to focus on how things “can’t be done that way”. At some point, the marketplace gets to make the rules, even if they override existing rules.

Have you noticed how javascript  has been slowing down the web? Have you noticed how web publishers have been adopting rich web scripting aggressively over the years? Has it impacted your use of the web? Not your strategy, or your business plans, or even your success… but your use of the web? I certainly have.

Increasingly, I type something into Google.com and discover the Google box has trimmed my entry at the front end. “John Andrews” shows up as “hn andrews”, which I only discover after Google has already accepted my ENTER keypunch and served up search results for the query “hn andrews”.

Similarly, I open a browser and type in “twitter.com” + ENTER only to discover I have been delivered to itter.com. The javascript loading on the page has caused a delay, no type-ahead buffer has been utilized. Coding of the “rich” pages is such that my entries are being trimmed on the front end. A trend is clear.

More typo sites will get traffic every single day, as javascript continues to slow down the web, and code increasingly delays the page load. I bet witter.com gets more traffic today than it did yesterday, even after normalizing for twitter growth. Will itter.com get even more later this year, as the trend continues?

Are these really typos, eligible for prosecution under the cybersquatter’s laws? What about less obvious examples? What about mantec.com getting antivirus traffic allegedly intended for symantec.com? What about CROSoft.com getting “typo traffic” from Microsoft.com (CRO is an acronym for Contract Research Organization in medical industries..CROSoft.com is a GREAT name for a CRO software application -SAS- company). Can CROSoft.com be pursued as a cybersquatter for publishing ads for software applications, with a claim it is a Microsoft.com typo?

Credit Card fraud has been rampant for years. Credit card companies have managed those losses mostly behind the scenes (properly, or not, I can’t say). Despite the almost absolute certainty that villains are taking cash money out of our accounts every second of every 24x7x365 day, credit card use has grown to  mammoth proportions. Some large businesses that dominate their industries practically can’t function, let alone dominate, without credit cards.

Increasingly, citizens cannot function responsibly without credit cards, hence social order is at least theoretically dependent upon access to credit cards. The same will be true of javascript soon enough. We need js. And in the mean time, trends fulfill their destinies.

How quickly can you build a portfolio of names built upon the observation of the trend, an expectation that it will continue, and consideration of today’s Cyersquatting laws? For those not actively “domaining”, the business is based on revenue flow. If the site receives direct traffic, that traffic is monetized. No site development is needed… it is all about traffic. If something like Mantec.com received antivirus traffic, and monetized with antivirus ads, it may enjoy a 95% or better conversion rate.

Think of all the front-trimmed names that will get some traffic today, and more tomorrow, yet are arguably not trademark infringing. I recognize that the word “arguably” is the key here, and that lawyers can be expected to increasingly benefit from the growth of the Internet.

Search marketers can think about the resulting skew in the search results and search statistics, as more and more searches for john andrews pass thru “You searched hn andrews. Did you mean john andrews?” We SEOs have long worked to capture typo search traffic, carefully managing whatever case law exists for trademarks in meta tags and such. It seems to me things, well, they are a changin’ again, as usual.

Disclaimer: Please don’t jump in here to admonish me for suggesting typo squatting. I am not recommending trademark infringement. Just as some SEO’s will overreact when I suggest SEO is “gaming”, some will want to jump on me for referencing typos as a business strategy. This is a “thought piece”, intended to raise some awareness and possibly prompt some innovative thought. It is not to be taken “literally” and even if it was, those who execute literally will encounter realities without my help (whether it is the reality of the SEO game, or the reality of trademark/cybersquatting law). Andif they don’t, well, then they were visionaries, no?

Getting some Google Love…dot com.

Google recently proclaimed that the Internet had become “a cesspool” and that Big Brands were the answer to cleaning up that Internet cesspool. We’ve since then seen the Google search engine favor brands over other sites, even when the branded sites didn’t appear to qualify for top rankings. Google apparently promotes them because they are big brands, and because Google thinks those brands represent the quality crap in the cesspool.

Now America Online, a Big Brand, is taking advantage of that favoritism, by publishing tons of junk on love.com that Google is indexing and presenting in the search results. And AOL is not the only one.. there are others doing the same thing — publishing page after page of junk results in an apparent attempt to simply grab search market share for advertising (Google ads, no doubt).

Take a look at what Google CEO Eric Schmidt seems to think is quality content worthy of being indexed by Google, and served up in search results:

  • search Google for site:love.com
  • see list of thousands of subdomains on every topic imaginable (including outrageous content on hamster-sex, dog-sex, etc)
  • click thru to see page after page of simple excerpts of other content, patchd together to make new pages

AOL has apparently massively spammed Google, taking advantage of the leniency Google has granted them as a “trusted brand”. They have obviously created their rehashed content along SEO guidelines, keeping just enough uniqueness to qualify according to the Google algorithm. Page titles are all “XXX.love.com | All Things XXX” and the page content is nothing but a mashup of content published elsewhere on the web. According to Techcrunch, the content is all from an automated generation system: “All of this is automated and requires very little human involvement.

There is no way Google can  accept this, but what else can they do in the short term? I can only imagine how miserable it must feel to be a Google employee for the next few weeks while everyone looks at this junk and no one does anything about it because of the Google-Brand politics.

I’m sure it will take some time for Google and AOL to discuss the matter and reach some consensus, since they are trusted partners and all. If it were a small outfit doing this, Google would just drop them from the index. This has got to hurt morale in the Googleplex… I know how bad I would feel if my CEO started allowing spammy junk like this with an excuse that it was trusted branded content, safer and better for users.

I wonder what excuse we’ll ultimately here from AOL. It was an error? It was a rogue SEO they didn’t know about? Or maybe it’s “in beta” and quality will improve over time?

Guilty! Reverse Domain Name Hijacking… only $5,000 ?

According to DomainNameNews today, a company has been found guilty of a Reverse Domain Name Hijack attempt, which carries a fine of $5,000. The report says this is the first time a company has been found guilty of that charge, which I find remarkable. More remarkable, however, is the mere $5,000 fine! The legal fees for defending against claims and attacks like these has got to be that much, if not more.

In this case, someone held ForSale.ca back in 2000. Globe Media registered the trademark “www.ForSale.ca” which was awarded in 2006, and Globe subsequently sought control of the domain. Since the original registration preceeded the trademark, they were denied rights to the domain.

But Globe Media watched carefully and tried again after the domain dropped in 2009 and an employee of a domain registrar picked it up. That employee was Tom Brown, of BareMetal.com. Glove offered him $5,000 but he instead sold it to another company 9 days later for $29,000. Globe went after that owner, again claiming trademark rights.

DomainNameNews  shows how someone uncovered that Globe had previously registred “numerous trademark infringing domains including Ducati.ca, Labatts.ca, Mentos.ca, Zantac.ca” etc. and the Canadian arbitration panel decided to find Globe guilty of bad faith actions which led to the finding and the fine.

Takeaways:

  • notice how an employee of a registrar picked up a quality name that dropped and sold it 9 days later for $29000
  • notice how the trademark game appears to be alive and well, with companies playing both sides
  • notice how small the fine is ($5,000) for abusing the system for $30,000 gains

Paul Mockapetris at T.R.A.F.F.I.C. Silicon Valley

The upcoming Traffic Internet conference in Santa Clara later this month will feature Dr. Paul Mockapetris at the podium. Dr. Mockapetris and Jon Postel invented the “domain name system” (DNS), the core domain name to IP number lookup system powering the world wide web since it began.

If you operate a business website, you are currently betting your business on the reliability of the DNS system. If you have built a brand around a domain name, you have invested in the future of the DNS system.
I can’t think of a more relevant speaker for a domain industry conference… I hope we get to hear about where DNS is going or is likely to go in the future, as that insight must be amazingly valuable for everyone holding a premium domain name or a valuable Internet brand.
T.R.A.F.F.I.C. is April 27-30 see TargetedTraffic.com

So Little is Known about Us “out there”

Each day I am reminded just how little the “real world” knows about us. We’re SEOs, Internet marketers, web strategists, and innovators on the systems that support commerce on the web. Nearly everyone in business is already on the web or using the web, yet how many actually know about us?

The people acting as intermediaries know us, and we know them because they hire us, subscribe to our feeds, and follow us on Twitter.  But increasingly, those people are putting themslves “out there” in front of the business public, representing our endeavors to them. They are telling our customers how our efforts help the customers’ businesses. Are they doing the best job? Are they properly representing innovation, entrepreneurship, and execution on the web?

If you are a full time SEO,SEM, or web entrepreneur, think about increasing your public exposure outside of SEO/SEM world. They are hungry for your insights, and eager to learn about what you do. If you don’t tell them, trust me, someone is is waiting in line to tell them all about how your work can help them (and they won’t be passing out your business card).

(I consider this my own “insider blog” within the search marketing world, but as I increase my own involvement outside “searchLand”, I’m increasingly referring people to my site at UpperLeftPlacement.com)

Web Prescience, Coming True Every Day

I’m working on a newsletter I call WebPrescience. I will host it at Webprescience.com. It will highlight insights into the future of the web, as I and others see and describe it, or hint at it. I hope it will ultimately replace this blog, and significantly advance my objective of noting, describing, and questioning what it means to be competitive on the Internet. My kind of futures research.

Had I already started the Web Prescience newsletter, I would have included excerpts from this New York Times article  “Ping Software that Monitors Your Work, Wherever You Are“. I have a lot to say about this article, in the context of the future of the web within our global economy, but right now I will just take a small quote:

“No one gets fired,” Mr. Webb said. “They just don’t get work.”

Obviously I need the WebPrescience Newsletter so I can expound on this revealing news report. On that note, if anyone can recommend a newsletter system that represents a good balance between  AWeber and hosted Mailman, please let me know either in the comments or via email to john at this domain. I love the controls that make Aweber so reliable as a delivery agent, yet I dislike the extreme control they exert over my membership lists. I like hosted Mailman for it’s robustness and simplicity, yet can’t affford the spam blocking risk.

LinuxFest Northwest 2009

LinuxFest Northwest 2009 takes place April 25 & 26th, at the Bellingham Technical College (BTC). This is the 10th anniversary of LinuxFest. Check out the web site: Linuxfest Northwest 2009.

 

Someone Can Charge for News Content, but Who?

The New York Times continues to publish articles on what it calls the “free vs paid debate” (Google it). They are trying to figure out, in public, how to charge for news delivered over the web.  The article notes that people can’t expect news for free, and advertising is not supporting web publishing efforts.They seem to try to justify some sort of subscription model, and I am betting it will be a back door tax (levied through ISPs or such) if they have their way. And why is that? Because that’s the only way to hide the value proposition from us consumers.

Good information is valuable. Many of us pay for quality information every day. We subscribe to expensive journals, and belong to membership sites from which we gain seemingly valuable insights.  We spend money attending meetings because of the information (all forms) we gather through participation. We pay for quality information. Pay is the action verb in that sentence, which reflects intent which drives the commerce.

We (apparently) don’t get quality information from the news media. How else can you explain that we, in general, don’t want to pay for it?

Someone can charge for online content, but I doubt it will be the New York Times or any other old-school media outlet for that matter. They simply don’t have the culture of value we need. They have trained us over the years, so we know where the value is in the published news media.

Here’s a clue for the New York Times: many of us are ignorant and lazy, and we used to pay $10 per week to have your “news” delivered to our doorsteps. We knew it was full of bias (editorial bias, selection bias, presentation bias, etc) but since we are lazy, we didn’t care. It was OUR news which we paid for. Did the story about Gaza have a slant? Who cares! It was OUR story about Gaza, which WE chose to pay for. We knew it wasn’t 100% truthful news… we learned that about you guys long ago.. that you have agendas driven by politics and advertising, and other things money. But we were ok with that.. we chose to pay for it.

Another clue: many of us are smart and righteous about value. We paid for the Sunday Times because for $5 it was a whole day’s entertainment, plus some. We enjoyed it. We tolerated the daily because, well, it was one of many slanted stories we read in hopes of forming a valid opinion of fact. If it takes work to be properly informed, well, we will do the work of reading through the New York Times bias and figuring out the truth (as near as we can).

So now does the New York Times think it can claim to be accurate, factual news, on the web, with a value proposition to match?

We have so much free entertainment on the web, we don’t need the Sunday Times anymore (although some people will still see value). We have so many different perspectives available to us on the news, that YOUR different perspective doesn’t have so much value any more. We’re not choosing it anymore. We’re not paying for it. And every time you let one of your really good thinkers leave to start their own blog, we follow to that (free) blog because it has value (to us).

If you repackage your content as factual news… well I’m afraid you have to suffer the performance metrics the rest of us on the web suffer every day. It’s true or it’s not. Your facts will be checked, your slants will be exposed, and your hidden agendas will be highlighted and amplified. You may even become fodder for those free entertainment sites I mentioned, as well as those free alternative perspective sites I mentioned. Your walled garden of “news reporting” is walled no more.Was it ever news, anyway? I bet it was.. many years ago.

TV got this years ago. Today Bill O’Reilly reports the news, and Jon Stewart reports the news. Very popular news shows, right? Think about it.

I don’t think this bodes well for us citizens, as our “news” becomes nothing but slant, editorial, and infotainment. Scary to think what hapens when no one will pay for “news” anymore, and we are left with only the stuff that is supported by marketing messages or political agendas or fear mongering. But HEY! That ship left port YEARS ago! You all destroyed our news media a long time ago, even if you don’t think that anyone actually knew that you were  doing it. We did. And you did. So stop pretending that the loss of “real” news will be harmful to society. Get over it. We are SO over you already.

I’m getting bored hearing how the New York Times will figure out a micropayments subsciption model, or AP will find a way to charge for every 5 words it spits out into a news feed. Yawn.

Domaining and SEO Revisited, Again

In SEO world there is this repeating argument that a monetization project could be executed on almost any domain, even though some domains are clearly better than others. The issue is cost: for Internet marketing projects, a “premium domain”, the argument goes, is not worth a premium price because the project could be executed on a “sub-par” domain at a bargain price.

Almost every time I mention a domain aftermarket opportunity as an opportunity for SEO execution, I get comments suggesting the money needed to buy the domain would be better spent marketing a sub-par domain.

This week funshit.com sold at auction for $2000. Is there an SEO anywhere in the world that doesn’t know how to put funshit.com to work immediately, in a way likely to generate $2k/month within a year? Is there an SEO out there courageous enough to argue that funshit.org or funshit.net is “just as good” at a lower buy-in?

Go ahead and propose building out on some cheaper name, but I don’t think the argument holds water. That domain is perfect for fast marketing a time-wasting traffic site, which can be put to use for all sorts of low-overhead miscellany likely to generate a revenue stream with long term value. FAIL and you’ll generate $300-500/month with minimal overhead… a 4-5 month return on investment in the domain (a domain likely to retain resale value separate from your development efforts, by the way).

At some point the monetization value of an aftermarket domain truly exists (separate from type-in or asset value), even for seo cynics. You don’t have to believe me; it’s my opinion. What’s yours?

Best of the Web Affiliate Link

This post includes Best of the Web affiliate links, a link to the Best of the Web banner page, and the link to sign on as a best of the Web affiliate (via their excellent webmaster affiliate program). The BOTW affiliate program pays commission on sign ups and renewals, and BOTW is one of the recommended business directories for increasing web site exposure on the web.

A first step in SEO is to obtain a few trusted, clean, high-value and relevant back links for your site. Best of the Web is one of the recommended directories for that purpose. Start a new site — get listed in Best of the Web.

You can Help! Sometimes I post thing like this to make life easier on web masters. My “load large files into MySQL” post has become very popular since webmasters linked to it. It ranks well in Google for a number of problem queries where people are having trouble because phpMyAdmin doesn’t allow large files to be imported.

You can help make this post a convenient web resource by linking to this post with anchor text “Best of the Web Affiliate Links“. That will help it rank for the search “Best of the Web Affiliate Links” and keep it fast and easy… any time you need it, just Google it!

Armchair Quarterbacks, SEOs, and Domainers

Domain Name News is one of the leading online “newspapers” of the Internet domain industry. Publisher Adam Strong asked me about the recent $5.1 million dollar toys.com sale, and after some conversation on SEO aspects I agreed to write my thoughts for publication on DomainNameNews.com. I asked a few friends in the SEO industry if they would like to participate, and the article went online. Click through to read Armchair SEOs Play with Toys.com.

Another leading domain industry newspaper DomainNameWire.com extended the “armchair” concept to domainers with “Are You and Armchair Domainer?”

Is it Really All About Links?

Links are code. When webmasters published the web, they did so in code. Nowadays people publish to the web. They don’t use code.

How does a person “link” to a site today? Is it an anchor tag? Does it have attributes? No, they simply type whatever.com into their user interface. There is very little incentive to make a link, and very little if any visible benefit.

Today people use platforms, and platforms produce code. Tech people used to code html pages, but now even they use platforms (like WordPress). WordPress used to have “blogrolls”, but they are now out of fashion. What’s in fashion? Facebook, Twitter, and WordPress blogs with minimalist themes (no blogrolls).

People still “recommend” websites. They don’t build as many links as they used to. What’s a search engine to do?

Facebook is manipulating internal (and outbound) linking. If it does so following a schema, Google can manage it. If not, Google has stress. Twitter forces TinyURLs, according to a schema. But lately Twitter is showing it knows how to make friends, and can influence people. Twitter is starting to manipulate the internal and outbound links it owns, and sell its integrity to players in the web industry. I don’t expect much from Twitter.

The days of the public-facing web page platform are behind us. The players producing platforms are manipulating the currency that they see those platforms aggregate — which is mostly links. As you type type type your content into Twitter or WordPress.com or Wikipedia you are fueling the coffers of an elite group of benefactors, and if they continue to manipulate the open web, we lose the “free” benefits of our world wide web. They used to encourage you to sign onto their systems, but now they need you. We’re not linking because our tools don’t make it easy enough to express our linking selves. Those who make the flexible tools today do so for personal gains, not the betterment of the web, and so they manage the linking. Greed is the new black.

And as we all stop linking, and our overlords manipulate the linking behind our content, what is Google to do? Just a hint — we stopped linking quite a while ago, in Internet time. Google’s been trying things, but I haven’t seen much success.
Free was never free; it was “no cost to users”. But as users lose the benefits of the open web, the cost of free can be substantial. The Tragedy of the Commons is hastened by the greed of those pulling platform strings, encouraged by search engines seemingly comfortable with the relationship, and supported by the masses of individuals looking to easily publish themselves on the web in order to “be somebody”.

I wrote this post on my self-published blog, and felt no desire nor need to link out to anything on the web. I’m not trying to educate an audience, nor trying to get them to sign onto my platform. I know few will link to this, although relatively many will indeed read it. Some might comment, but unless they desire a stunted, asynchronous one-way “conversation” they won’t bother. One or two may Twitter a 132 character quip to me about this, or send a DM, but I won’t hold my breath waiting.

The days of the html web are over, and we are in transition to something next.. the real time web. We have been for a while. Google runs the show today, because Google owns the archives… and I refer to very short term archives, since if we don’t witness something published live, we immediately go to Google to re fined it. People are saying twitter search is the next Google. Boy oh boy I can’t wait to see what our leaders and governments will do with populations of short-memory, attention overloaded, short-term-archive-dependent citizens.

For now, as an SEO, I have a job to do. But looking forward, unless Google or another search engine “nationalizes” itself for the good of the web or the web users, things are going to get ugly.

Opting IN with Google, so you can Opt-out of Tracking

Google has announced its new behavioral ad targeting, and acknowledged some of the privacy and protection guidelines in development around the world. They note:

  • United States Federal Trade Commission “Principles of Online Advertising”(PDF)
  • Network Advertising Initiative’s Self-Regulating Conduct paper
  • the Center for Democracy and Technology’s Threshold Analysis for Online Advertising Practices (PDF)
  • Internet Advertising Bureau (UK) Good Practice Principles  (here)

They also note that they would like to allow users to “opt out” of behavioral targeting (a technology which is based on tracking), but the only way they have to track these days is cookie technology. So according to Google, if you chose to opt out, Google must record that opt out preference in a cookie, but that cookie will be cleared if you clear your browser cookies. In other words, if you clear your cookies you are once again opted-in, even though you chose to opt-out.

So according to the new release, Google invented new technology to prevent that “problem”.  Google now offers a new browser plugin which will prevent you from clearing the Doubleclick cookie when you purposefully clear your browser cookies. That’s right, it’s a cookie-clearing-block plugin, specifically protecting the Doubleclick cookie which is supposed to opt you out of behavioral targeting:

The Google advertising cookie opt-out plugin is a browser extension which permanently saves the DoubleClick opt-out cookie in your browser, allowing you to save your opt-out status even when you clear all cookies…

Yes, you read correctly. Google produced a plugin to protect their cookie against cookie deletion. They explain how t works, as well:

The plug works like this: When you clear all cookies in your browser, the plugin automatically sets the DoubleClick opt-out cookie again, so that cookie is effectively not deleted and your opt-out setting stays enabled.

It seems pretty obvious to me that this double-negative ridiculousness comes from Google’s reliance on tracking as an opt out process.  They can’t just tell you to block their cookie, because they make 98% of their profits from advertising. So the double-negative “block the blocking” stuff is presented as a solution. Now you can save your preferences to NOT see certain types of ads, but to utilize that new feature you have to enable permanent tracking for Google only. Got that?

In summary, Google suggests you can now choose to not see certain kinds of ads, provided you enable a permanent Doubleclick cookie so they can track you and abide by your preferences.

I’m still thinking through the logic of this one, and wondering how quickly we will see this plugin as a default install on new PCs, pushed out with Adobe Reader updates, etc etc etc. No mention of the Flash storage tracking either.

It seems just about everyone is scared by Google’s new decision to track user behavior, because of past hints at how your use of Google to search for things can be easily used to deny you insurance, pre-screen you as a job candidate, or predict your future behavior. Some posts:

Google Docs: Is 3 Weeks too long to fix a Privacy/Security Issue?

Saturday morning is slow time for viral distribution of news, but if the news sticks the viral component tends to last longer than usual, often re-distributed by the Monday morning back-to-work crowd. “Checkout what happened over the weekend”, such as this Google Docs privacy leak.

First, this is important news. If you used Google Docs, and elected to share some documents with some people, you may have been inadvertently sharing those documents with other people. Not random people (as some have said), but also not just people who have seen the document before (as others have suggested). It was a programming bug, and was documented by Richard DeVries who reported it to Google and watched it get patched over a three week period:

About three weeks ago, we discovered that some fifteen documents and spreadsheets were unintentionally shared with a lot of people, some of whom were outside of our domain. We found out that one of us had been wanting to share these documents with a colleague (within our domain). He selected the documents on the documents list and added one user. Google Docs then shared all these documents with everyone who had access to one of the selected documents…Fortunately, we found this out fairly quickly and were able to revoke the unintentionally granted rights before any damage was done (we think). These documents weren’t ultra-secret, but you can imagine what could go wrong. I decided to try and contact Google about this.

Now Google lovers defend Google, saying this like (actual quotes):

  • You guys are getting way carried away with this. Talking like people had their Docs shared with random people is wrong. These Docs were shared with people that they had previously been shared with.
  • Look what you’ve become, people. Using free service and not being grateful..You should be ashamed, really

While Google haters will jump on this and say things like (paraphrasing):

  • Google can’t be trusted
  • You’re stupid to use Google Docs for your documents
  • the sky is falling

For me, it is obvious that if you use a third-party storage facility and allow that third-party to manage access permissions via a public interface, you have already decided to manage the risk (or ignore it). OF COURSE this is risky behavior. It is generally not a matter of whether or not Google will compromise your security, but WHEN. Unless you believe Google is perfect, you know that your documents are not perfectly secure.

But is 3 weeks to long for a problem like this one to be left open?

Richard DeVries obviously likes Google, as his journal is very kind to Google while reporting the security flaw:

I think Google handled the issue admirably. It was solved within two weeks, they un-shared affected documents and notified their owners.

He’s an experienced IT user… he knows that the chances of other companies with similar security problems handling it as Google did are….well… probably not that great. He knows that some companies would never reveal they had a security issue, and some would take months to fix such issues.

But is two or three weeks to long for Google to be fixing such a serious security issue? That question needs to be asked. We trust Google a whole helluvalot more than we trust other companies.  Google responded to Richard DeVries that it was able to reproduce the problem. At that point, while Google scheduled the work to fix the problem, should the offending feature have been turned off? Should a warning have been added to the user interface? This is part of the Google Beta problem… Google leaves products in beta and tells users they are not responsible for glitches, sometimes for many years.

As this news hits inboxes around the world over the weekend, and re-circulates on Monday morning, try and keep the focus. It’s not about liking or hating Google. It’s about holding Google to a standard appropriate for the level of trust it has been granted.  Brilliant employees can create brilliant products which generate brilliant profits for brilliant executives and shareholders. Let’s encourage them to maintain the brilliance when handling our privacy and security as well. We don’t need you to be better than the other companies in this regard, Google. We need you to be freakin’ awesome.

Vince’s Change to the Google Algorithm favors Brands

Matt Cutts of Google’s Search Quality Team posted a video response to the recent discussions of Google’s new emphasis on “brands”. He says Google doesn’t think interms of brands, but factors like

  • trust
  • authority
  • reputation
  • page rank
  • high quality

Matt says yes, “there has been a change in how we do some rankings”, and yes, it may be favoring big brands for some but not all search results pages. But if it is favoring anything, Matt says, it is because of the above factors.

But Matt continues to explain that for each query typed into Google, Google looks to deliver the best result to a user. Regarding the query someone types into Google’s search box, Matt says:

“sometimes that’s a brand search, sometimes that’s an informational search, sometimes it’s navigational, sometimes it’s transactional…”

Hmm. Notice that Matt specifically identified one type of user query as “a brand search”. Ignoring the fact that Matt had just told us that Google doesn’t think in terms like the word “brand”, notice that “brand” is not one of the search query types identified in prior Google documents (such as the Quality Rater guides). Informational queries, transactional queries, navigational queries have all been described before. Brand queries… that’s new language to me.

Matt gives as an example the search keyword “eclipse”, and suggests that if there were a branding preference, Google would probably rank the Mitsubishi Eclipse as a result (but it does not). He does note that Eclipse the development environment is present (which I see is the #1 result right now).

In my opinion, Matt chose a poor example to support his argument that Google isn’t emphasizing brands. Eclipse is not an important term identified by the archivists at RankPulse.com (and therefore we can’t look at Google’s history of rankings for that term, to see if they changed on January 18), but Eclipse.org (the #1 result) is exactly the site I would expect to be promoted as a brand result. So is EclipseAviation.com, and Eclipse.com (both currently Page 1 results).

I’m not saying the SERP for eclipse is another example of a SERP updated to support brands. I’m just noting it is not a good example of Google not emphasizing brands over other sites (such as well-supported informational sites or well optimized, quality but not strongly-branded sites).

In closing, Matt repeats the Google mantra that good content produced by experts, as recognized by users, comprise the set of sites that Google wants to present as search results.

Before we go, should I notice Matt’s use of “sites” as opposed to “pages” or URLs in that sentence?

Watch Matt’s video here.

Who’s Watching Google?

Last week Aaron Wall of SEOBook.com published his analysis of a significant change in the Google search engine. In late January, a marketer in the SEOBook private forum had observed changes in the Google search results, seemingly favoring larger brands over heavily optimized smaller brands. A minor discussion ensued, since this action appeared to reward big businesses for reasons other than the quality-based scores Google usually cites as its “reasons” for ranking some sites above others.

Aaron investigated more thoroughly and put together his findings in a well communicated blog post. Clearly, Aaron demonstrated, Google had made a significant change, either based on a new set of factors unknown to optimizers, or based on corporate directive at Google. Since Google’s CEO had previously promised such changes, it is quite likely that Aaron’s research reveals Google’s operational efforts to deliver on that promise, effective January 18, 2009.
We all know Google dislikes such exposure.

Aaron used a tool from RankPulse.com which had been set up to query Google on a set of searches of interest,  researching trends. Since Google is a public service, with significant (if not overwhelming) impact on the global Internet economy, such research is essential (for us) even if uncomfortable for Google. According to the RankPulse web site, the tool:

The RankPulse Index (RPI) provides an overall glimpse into the daily fluctuations of Google results. The value of the index on any given day represents the number of positions websites moved within the top ten for a particular keyword among the 1000 keywords that we track.

Yesterday, Google published a statement that the data interface for checking on Google as RankPulse had, was to be closed down, and reiterated that Google’s Terms of Use prohibited automated checking of Google’s search results for any reason. Google also forbids the “permanent” storing of any Google search results, for any reason:

each search performed with the API must be the direct result of a user action. Automated searching is strictly prohibited, as is permanently storing any search results.

This is not the first time Google has threatened to shut off its API, nor is it the first time Google expressly forbids automated access. But it does appear to be a case of the world catching up with Google, accurately revealing Google’s operational activities despite Google’s efforts to forbid such scrutiny. Changes made around January 18th were noted in a professional search forum within days, and outlined in detail by Aaron Wall a month later. The RankPulse tool expedited the research, but was not essential. It was, however, key to our ability to analyze and disseminate information about Google’s operations in a timely fashion. You might say that Google’s API,via custom third-party innovations like RankPulse.com, enabled us to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” (which is Google’s corporate mission statement, by the way).

It sure seems contradictory for Google, a company based on the collection and storage of others’ web page content, to forbid others from doing the same. It is also quite egregious for Google to expect to operate secretly, with no accountability (such as might be obtained through archiving of Google results), when Google exerts so much influence over Internet commerce.

Every time I see governments of the world grant leeway to Google because of some “greater good” that comes from enabled search, I feel more confident that we are moving forward in our efforts to build a better world. But when I see Google take actions to shut down innovations that don’t directly benefit Google’s corporate agenda, at the expense of our wider global economy and the free dissemination of information, I cringe. Clearly we need to support search. But perhaps we are all supporting the wrong search engine?

Watching The Watchmen

the watchmen
Who’s watching the watchmen? Social commentary, or pop culture? The Watchmen is trending, and clearly benefits from the overlap. Had this graffiti been “Dark Knight” or “Iron Man” it would have been removed promptly, but this “social commentary” persists in plain site, week after week, in Bellingham, Washington.

Why is Google hosting common Javascript/AJAX Libraries?

Why is Google hosting common Javascript/AJAX Libraries?

This post will be published to the public later today, with a unique URL (/google-ajax-api.html) and the above title.Thanks for reading and following.

I have a question I would like to try and answer, and I need some help. Why is Google hosting popular Javascript/AJAX libraries like jQuery, Prototype, script.aculo.us, MooTools, Dojo, SWFObjectNew!, and even user interface libraries like the Yahoo! User Interface Library (YUINew!) and jQuery UI?

My follow up question is why website developers are making use of those hosted services, but first I need to understand Google’s intent.

Perhaps you didn’t know (because you are an SEO and not a coder, or an owner and not a coder) that your website is loading its javascript libraries off of Google’s servers, every single time they are needed. Google offers this seemingly benevolent service for free (read the offer here).

Perhaps you didn’t realize that under this arrangement, Google can see the IP and referrer of every incoming visitor. Is this just another way that Google can see your web traffic, and where it is coming from? I need to understand this better.

You can tell if your coder is utilizing this service (and handing Google the keys to your business data) by inspecting the source code of your web page, looking for something like (the “XXX” partwill vary):

<script src="http://www.google.com/XXX"></script>

This is definitely a helpful thing for developers — it makes their job easier, and we know developers love things that make their jobs easier. Google presents it that way to developers:

The AJAX Libraries API takes the pain out of developing mashups in JavaScript while using a collection of libraries. We take the pain out of hosting the libraries, correctly setting cache headers, staying up to date with the most recent bug fixes, etc.

Google is indeed hosting the libraries, but Google is also helping the makers of those libraries, since having your library hosted and distributed (and promoted) by Google can’t be a bad thing:

Google works directly with the key stake holders for each library effort and accepts the latest stable versions as they are released. Once we host a release of a given library, we are committed to hosting that release indefinitely.

This all sounds so… good. Google does try to suggest that this is also good for web publishers, when it states:

By using the Google AJAX API Loader’s google.load() method, your application has high speed, globaly available access to a growing list of the most popular, open source JavaScript libraries

I questioned the “load faster” part, because I prefer to rely on my own servers (thank-you-very-much). Alex noted below that load times can be reduced due to paralel loading of libraries from different servers, in addition to any benefits from Google’s caching and data center performance.

I doubt many business decision makers are actually in tune with this at all. Is it an issue? Developers are making the call here.  So why is Google being so benevolent?

Brian notes in a comment that Google can trust the js libraries since it hosts them… and doesn’t need to crawl through them to know what’s inside. Excellent point. What do you think?

Take a look at that SWFObject one, too. Wow.. why would Google want to host in real time the javascript library that is most commonly used for  managing embedded Flash objects with alternative text annotations?

Does anyone know? Please comment.

Google’s done covert things before. I recall when we learned, well after the fact, that Mozilla had taken nearly a hundred million of dollars from Google in exchange for  exclusive access to its user base’s activity data. Even while we Mozilla supporters were pitched on the benevolent, non-profit status of the open source Mozilla project, the managers of Mozilla were operating as a for-profit company in partnership with Google. They even had to put off filing their taxes, so they could restructure as a for-profit entity nearly 18 months back, to avoid IRS penalties.

What do you think? Is covert user tracking enough of a benefit for Google to offer this program? Is the knowledge Google gain about the relative usage of these libraries so valuable (e.g. how many sites are loading jQuery vs. how many use Prototype)” What am I missing? Please comment if you know.

Q: Could it be that Google is getting code inserted into the AJAX libraries it is hosting, much like it got access to Mozilla’s userbase’s activity stream?

That would see so evil, since user interface libraries can do just about anything with the page they load in (your page, by the way). They can manipulate the page, or even track mouse movements without waiting for the user to click. Google could know if you hover on ads and don’t click, for example.

I’m not asking for anti-Google tin foil hat conspiracy theories… I just need helpful, honest analysis that will help answer the question – Why is Google hosting the common Javascript libraries (javascript APIs) for free? 

OBama Sushi

We previously noted Obama’s car, and now there’s Obama Sushi (via inventorspot)

See a Need, Fill a Need, 2009 Edition

An older gentleman arrived at Starbucks the other day for a meeting with a 40-something tech entrepreneur. The younger man was obviously prepared to graciously host a meeting with his elder investor. The older man walked with a cane, wore thick glasses, and needed some assistance before landing safely into a Starbucks comfy chair.

Look at all the young people with computers“, the older man forcefully exhaled, as if to make sure we all heard his pronouncement. I imagined he was quite a force in some business community somewhere in the past. He was That Kind of Guy. He purposefully made firm eye contact with me when I glanced his way, and I am pretty sure he winked as well. “Classic, Grandpa“, I thought to myself. I formed a silent “rock on” with my right hand under the table.

Everything’s computers“, he continued preaching to his junior partner. “Wonderful things. I don’t know how we did without them before. I’m on mine every day. Essential! Essential if you want to make it today“.

I put my headphones on, surfed to Pandora and clicked the “Trip Hoppin’ Radio” channel. I like Thorn Yorke, Saru, Bitter:Sweet and their ilk as work music these days. I turned up the volume. I assumed Junior was working on some online catalog database or perhaps an interactive pipe filter specification tool for field use in the refining industry, or some such software innovation I didn’t need to hear about. None of my business.

But He didn’t leave me alone. At one pont Junior left for the restroom, and Grandpa decided it was His privilege to shout loudly in my direction, despite my headphones and my intended-to-be-obvious happy listener head nodding.

Good to see everyone working. All the computers, everyone’s busy. No leanin’ on the shovel. That’s what we need right now. Good to see“, he offered.

Keep in mind I’m not 20-something or even thirty something. I’m about the same age as Junior. I dress down and nondescript; last year’s Costco fashions. Perhaps that made me less threatening to Grandpa Buffet, because He wanted to chat. I obliged.

Yeah“, I muttered, and I looked about the room. I could see many of the laptop screens Grandpa had seen. Only when I looked at them, I saw Twitter, Facebook, several MySpace screens, and one LinkedIn page (Starbucks interviews are sooo obvious). Yet another Facebooker in the far corner. Oh wait, a designer working in Illustrator. That’s work… oh, no… it’s a MySpace background. Oh well, I thought to myself.
It’s the next big thing“, I said to the gentleman. “We’re all connected now, all around the world.

I didn’t have the heart to tell him that in this case, we were all in fact globally-connected slackers, spending our time on Social Media. I wasn’t sure he’d be able to handle the truth. I certainly didn’t want to risk upsetting him… he’d surely make a scene if he knew that:

  • The average computer in the room was worth about $1200, some costing upwards of $3,000. More than Grandpa put down on his first house, which I am sure he’d be happy to tell me is now worth millions.
  • Most of the people he noticed had been there for hours, if not all day. They were regulars.
  • Of the visible slackers, all but 2 had headphones on, and most of those headphones had white wires. That’s an additional several hundred dollars at each table.
  • We all have cell phones, many of them iphones and smart phones. I had two with me that day.
  • Virtually every screen in sight was opened to a social media web site that sucked in productivity and contributed absolutely zero to the national economy.

Young people are the key to the future. They understand this stuff“, he declared. I suspected from his tone that this was leaning more towards me being “old like him” rather than one of the “young people”, so I was THRILLED when Junior returned to regain Grandpa’s attention. I restored Pandora to my ears.

While many of the social media slackers at Starbucks that day were students, several were obviously outside workers on the road, one was a pharmaceutical rep, one was a hiring manager for a college painting company, and one was a rep for an MLM program. I learned later one other was a missionary (the for-profit kind we have so many of these days). Despite the variety, they had several things in common:

  • they disappointed Grandpa in the productivity department, wasting valuable human resources (often other people’s human resources) while looking busy
  • they had a strong need to connect to other human beings, to be themselves yet known as somebody in the world
  • they were willing to spend a lot of effort and take a lot of risk just so they could participate. They placed a high value on inclusion.

See a Need, Fill a Need” is something I would expect Grandpa to have said, had I asked him for business advice. Yes, indeed.

Speaking of Change…

This is so long and so sappy stupid you need to watch it. Everyone’s talking about change…so
[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cbk980jV7Ao]
I say less talk, more awesome. Start with a smile?

Thanks to the cave diving website for the awareness.

Ruining the Web: Google is Responsible and Capable

In search world we’ve long noted the power Google holds for shaping the web. We’ve long lamented the way Google has failed to put that power to good use, compared to the way it has put that power to work. Google is responsible for much of the character of today’s web (something Google’s own CEO now refers to as a “cesspool”). MFA sites obviously polluted the web (“MFA” is “made for AdSense”, Google’s advertising system. An MFA site is useless except as a vehicle to serve ads).Comment spam and forum spam are aimed directly at Google’s reward system.

As Google became the only search engine, it shaped the character of the web, and is responsible for that impact. By my view, Google is also capable of fixing many of the problems, by virtue of that same power. But it doesn’t bother. And that’s the problem.

Today we see evidence that 100% positive, 5 star product reviews are worth $0.65 each. As the story is currently being reported, some BizDev guy’s name is associated with an offer to pay $0.65 for perfect major brand product reviews on Newegg and Amazon. According to his instructions, you sign up and read the product description for the target product, and then write a review as if you owned the product and loved it. You have to give it a full 5/5 rating, and sound real. For this, you get $0.65. That’s sixty five cents.

Of course the Google lovers will say this is not Google’s doing, and Google can’t stop unethical people from gaming human reviews.

The rest of us will note that Google relies heavily on user reviews for things like Google Local. Google assumes human reviews are worth more than nothing, and includes them into the merit calculations it uses to rank web sites. If you’ve ever seen a “10 box” of Google local results for a plumber or other service provider, you will see that  those with more/better reviews show up more frequently than those without reviews. If everyone has one review, then those with zero reviews don’t show at all.

Google has decided that reviews have value, and this incorporated them into the ranking and indexing rules that drive traffic on the web. Obviously Google didn’t value them at sixty five cents, since a boost in Google local is worth far more than that. I wonder, what value did Google assign? And is that value managed across markets? Is this yet another market Google is making, encouraging and requiring human reviews, valuing them secretly, and then trading in that market? If so, Google continues to encourage the web to become a cesspool.

During 2006 I watched known-to-be-less-reputable characters in one of my markets balatantly spam the local reviews in order to gain stars in Google local. He was ahead of his time and stuck out “like a sore thumb”. No one in his market had any reviews, while he had 5 glowing reviews all dated within a week or so of each other. The fact that he was not a native English speaker helped them stand out, but Google still missed it. His competitors cringed with disgust when they saw the results of a Google local search… they felt that guy was really really ugly sitting up there with 5 obviously (to them) fake reviews. They felt it was bad for their industry in general, and bad for the marketplace. They were so put off they refused to ask their customers for reviews. They didn’t want to be like that guy.

As you can guess, that guy has been quite successful. He was never after the top-tier clients on the Dignity Scale. He was after money, which Google delivered via traffic. And now that he has the money…
What’s a fake review worth in your industry? Whether you like it or not, as long as Google is controlling the traffic flow, you will be required to either have a number of glowing, perfect reviews, or you won’t compete with those who do. Especially since starting today, many more companies are aware that perfect reviews work and can be had for as low as $0.65.
Be forewarned, though: with most scams, there are third parties riding the coat tails of the instigators of the initial scam, pitching a “solution” which also  just happens to be really really good for them. I consider OpenID one of these… watch as the OpenID promotors pepper the web with comments that OpenID is the solution to fake reviews. It’s not… and it represents a GREAT way for companies like Google to control even more of your access and perspective on the cesspool of the web.

Addendum: There’s plenty to laugh about over at QualityNonsense.com but you might especially like the bit on EBay’s keyword stuffing.

Obama’s Car (Cadillac)

Obama’s Car is a Cadillac, armored and fully-equipped with US Government special ordered electronics and protective systems.

Obama Cadillac

Interesting to see it’s Cadillac. I’m used to seeing trains of SUVs escorting the US President around… or maybe I watch too many espionage movies. If Barack Obama is in the Caddy, then there will be decoy caddies around I suppose, so maybe we’ll start seeing trains of black Cadillacs instead of black Yukons. Better for the environment? A little?

Affiliate Summit West Live Blogging

Gonna give this a try and see if the 3G connection enables me to blog some thoughts from the Affiliate Summit session on “the Future of Performance Marketing (Part 1).

Part 1: Session focused on “Performance Marketing” or CPA (cost per action) going forward

I hope it’s not all about subscription scams (that was sarcasm, folks).

See shop.org data avg order size in aff channel $12.44 is much less than what 2008’s online banners paid ($84). Why? Summary includes that retailers spend more for new customers in other channels than aff or perform channel. Also, CPA doesn’t pay on returns or cancellations, where CPM etc. can’t separate that out as easily.

Note: aff marketers have a relatively low profile in the marketplace of advertising…. seems there is an opportunity for this channel to grow by raising that profile, getting more attention in the space where merchants/advertisers/marketers are considering available channels for generating leads/sales/conversions.

Why merchants like CPA? Merchants like CPA because merchants get to set how much a transaction is worth. They get to set the payout.. the value per acquisition, which means they can budget, they can build upon a stated expectation for value. Can better manage an ROI target using CPA than other available means.

(the way I hear that, ever more important to  have a real person-person relationship with your CPA network reps).

Larry Adams (Google) says not seen many good quality discussions of the value of a consumer yet, behind the scenes. Some advertisers have perspective that money spent in other channels to raise awareness of product benefits the CPA process so not unusual for CPA payouts to be lower (by their perspective) since it benefits from spend elsewhere. Also says CPA buyers are spending MORE with the merchant overall, be more sohpisticated consumers, better educated, so maybe worth more overall once all that gets properly considered.

Panel discussion: “historically” the aff channel has been paid less. $20 for a search acquisition but $5 for the affiliate payout is common historical example…merchants want to pay less and can pay affiliates less, but have to compete in search and pay more accordingly. Should change going forward (?)

Q: Where is most growth coming from today, and where will it be in the future? Larger publishers play a larger role, or smaller publishers? More direct linking? More loyalty programs, coupon sites?

A: G hasn’t seen a bunch of new players “rocket onto the scene” and become powerful players. More like incremental growth of publishers in the space. Expects publishers to come in with new business models different from today.. social networks are example, still not being tapped efficiently. Someone will figure out how to “appropriately monetize” social networks. Might be individuals (people with big influence), developers (new apps enabling monetization)… nobody knows yet but expect it to happen. Hope to see balance of cost start to equalize… those with adequate ROI migh start to pay more in aff channel since they see opportunity they want.. expect to see other market verticals participate in affiliate space. Problems include existing contracts with distribution channels (interfering with getting into aff channel), lack of understanding of aff marketplace inside agencies.

Q: In this more challenging financial marketplace, what matters/shows promise? Google continues it’s emphasis on the value of creative… isn’t seeing “great creative” in the space, yet many publishers are giving freedoms for the creative, is anyone kickin’ it making awesome creative in the aff channel and if yes, is it working?

A: Some still more interested in ROI tracking and solid control of content than putting more emphasis on “creative” creative. More money in the long run if drive the creative process of ROI measures (creative that converts over “great creative”.

So great question and good answers… look how Google wants/expects “awesome creative” added to the web, yet the business process is looking for more efficient creative. We see this “conflict” all the time in SEO world… Google wants to grow the web along the creative edge, which impacts SEO, while monetization seeks a different sort of “optimization”. Interesting.

Yahoo! uses Ogilvy as creative agency… updates creative about quarterly… affiliates ask for something “different” sometimes, so they use a j.i.t. agency for that, too.

Q: Looking at “How the (afiliate Progam is Managed”. Sometimes marketing, sometimes a search group overseas, etc. What works/does not work?
A: Google says some advertisers have almost no staff and need full support, others have mult staff assigned just to affiliate. Note those who do more affiliate have more staff assigned and do better, and tend to “get better yield out of it”. Notes most challenging interplay is the conflict between people who are responsible for affiliate and people responsible for search. If different bosses, problem. Aff manager and search manager have different ideas on how liberal to allow the affiliate channel in use of search etc as source of traffic. Many 1,2,3 person shops  with people wearing many hats… would be best to split to have someone focused on affiliate.

Aff is performance based and should be a cost-of-sales model, not a marketing spend model like it is in many places. Silly to shut down aff campaigns because monthly marketing budget has been spent, when cost per sale is the real success metric. About half of the audience that acknowledged being an advertiser also acknowledged running spend as a cost of sales. Move more of the money to cost-of-sale line of the budget instead of advertising expense, and things will improve. Panel notes FINANCE people don’t understand affiliate marketing. They are getting used to online marketing spend, where increasing search traffic leads to increased marketing costs, often unrelated to planned advertising or marketing.

Yahoo guy says shift $$ from SEM to affiliate for short term funding… makes sense when cash flow concerns come up at year end etc.

Q: Does affiliate marketing have “incremental value”?

A: Responsibility of those who run the channel to educate others about value and lifetime value. Concerns that SEM affiliates would cannibalize SEO, for example, were solved after running and looking at data. Had NOT cannibalized SEO but in fact added volume via the affiliate channel. Issue was difficult politically until data was viewed by all.

Fact is some affiliates don’t add value. Merchants in aff network space find it hard to separte individual affiliates… they view the network aggregate not the individual publishers. Industry needs to provide better tools to merchants so they can see individuals or at least segments of affiliate channel. Don’t make decisions on value of affiliates based on hunches… look at publishers.

(Note that this supports the idea of better merchant-affilaite communications across the board.. it’s better for everyone. But it costs money… can someone prove it’s worth it? )

How do you calculate the value of a consumer? What is the conversion? Still have case that some count presence on site as success, while others look for sale etc. Break free from days of the catalog and move to better metrics.

Panel told a story of a merchant with big aff network who “studied data” and then decided to join second, big network. When asked if they had looked to do more with the poeple they already had in the first network, they were surprisaed at the idea. Had not considered looking more closely at individuals in first network and doing more thru the successful ones, instead of adding another bunch via a second network. (Sounded dumb to me, but if that’s a true story, there’s lots of inefficiency in the networks that yes, should be targeted for removal early in the “let’s make this more profitable” process. Sounds like networks need to offer better merchant tools…)

QnA from audience: Affiliates on panel note data feeds are often broken, dirty… Overstock has “out of stock” items in data feeds “all the time” for example. Want merchants to focus more on ROI issues rather than fastest growing affiliate contests or 1000 new banners per month. Audience member says having hard time getting feedback from affiliates on what matters. If these top affiluate people are complaining about not getting freedoms they want (deep linking, creative freedoms, etc), the audience member merchant is concerned cause he says he’s trying hard to listen/hear such concerns but not getting the feedback from the affiliates.

Who do merchants not allow deep linking?

  1. marketing agreements exist that prevent promoting specific products with advertising spend, brand agreements with manufacturers subject to fines. Artificat of old school marketing.
  2. Technical issues, like tracking won’t work unless routed through one page (e.g. no deep linking). Fix those problems please.
  3. Trust issues. Advertisers not comfortable giving publishers free reign… lessening over time, but still there. Suggest advertisers allow deep linking for specific publishers, expresses trust to affiliate as partner in marketing.

Second half.. looking more at the future.

Part II: The Future of Performance/Affiliate Marketing

Lost 80% of the audience in the break, by my quick estimate.

Interesting discussion of the various incoming “channels” competing within the affiliate space, when it comes to crediting an aff link with a sale. Coupon sites stepping in late, sometimes 4 or 5 successive coupon sites cookie prior to sale. Expect affiliate to advance further, movng closer and closer to the transaction. In a perfect world, the aff who “made the sale happen” should get the commission, but….

(what  I’m hearing is the merchant side (Yahoo! and Google reps here) y don’t really care how deep in some affiliate steps in to take credit, but the aff guys on the panel do care and want the merchants to track the sale back to the channel even if it is via 800 number, house ads, etc. Steve Schaffer wants to see credit given to afiliate channel first, and then look into that to reward affiliates with what they delivered to you. The Yahoo!/Google guys obviously aren’;t so concerned about fairness in the assignment of success metric to affiliate).

Larry Adams (Google) wants to poll audience.. who is a merchant, who does not de-dupe paid search from affiliate etc. (Sorry.. it’s so small an audience I can’t believe these audience polls)

Interesting discussion of the various incoming “channels” competitng within the affiliate space, when it comes to crediting an aff link with a sale. Coupon sites stepping in late, sometimes 4 or 5 successive coupon sites cookie prior to sale. Expect affiliate to advance further, moving closer and closer to the transaction. In a perfect world, the aff who “made the sale happen” should get the commission, but….

(what  I’m hearing is the merchant side (Yahoo! and Google reps here) y don’t really care how deep in some affiliate steps in to take credit, but the aff guys on the panel do care and want the merchants to track the sale back to the channel even if it is via 800 number, house ads, etc. Steve Schaffer wants to see credit given to afiliate channel first, and then look into that to reward affiliates with what they delivered to you. The Yahoo!/Google guys obviously aren’;t so concerned about fairness in the assignment of success metric to affiliate).

Audience: says he’s setting up tracking that shows who assisted in a sale, to get data on this and understand it better. All marketing efforts contributing to the log of traffic stream that led to a sale. Aff IDs and network IDs, plus whatever they have available to them within the networks. Looking at using 90 cookie, hoping to roll out end Q1. Q: How will they communicate with aff channel how they are assigning commission? A: not sure.. this is research to see data, not yet a plan to change things. (he didn’t say what merchant or network he was with?)

According to one known merchant, watched coupon affiliates and lowered the payout to 2% for coupon affiliate, keeping 3% of the total 5% for the prior affiliate. Took a lot of work on part of merchant to do this, but demonstrates at least one merchant system trying to do this. Steve Schaffer ads he knows of one merchant network that broke its tracking trying the same thing, only to punish the whole channel for 60 days while they sorted out the problem. (Ouch!)

Google: Aff industry grew up out of dot com bubble, so it will be interesting to see what happens with the latest financial situation. Most innovative have been publishers, who have pushed advertisers and networks to change. Publishers is biggest group w/loudest voice. Af marketing is a grass roots channel, and publishers are actively thinking on these issues. Expects innovation to come from publishers, not advertisers (tend to be least innovative) or networks unless prompted. Notes publishers should battle advertisers every day to get improvements.

Jim Jessup agrees… sophisticated search marketers are in publishers group, expect it to continue. Disagrees about merchants, expects more $$ shifted to performance channel so they can see more info around their spend, and then push to help make the affiliates more productive. Google thinks technoloy budgets at advertisers are dropping, not increasing.

Steve follows up asking if networks will follow up with tool development…Google says struggling with data warehousing problem. Even if Google gave data to networks/tool vendors, they don’t yet know how to handle the data. (Obviously Google enjoys tremendous data, but it sounds like they don’t have a lot of faith in other’s ability to utilize that data. Interesting).

Q: Wat is the future trend for outside US affiliate programs? Question comes from citizen of China… big market, without many solutions.
A; Google says good question, expects International to be source of new growth. Publishers, merchants, and marketers are there in other countries, and their is an equivalent amount of spend as well. Affiliate is dependent on the ability to transact commerce online, which makes a difference. China can’t do CPA/rev share because in China people don’t buy things online. Lead gen is definitely growing, and Google is going there (very interested). If they don’t buy online with credit cards, it won’t be the affiliate model. (think abut that one…. think a lot about that one)

Canadian example where shipping and provincial taxes etc. made an online shipping purchase $75 higher than in store for a single pair of shoes. No, the sale didn’t happen.

(Discussion of looking forward and wow…sure sounds like the future belongs to those able to exploit market inefficiencies with new tools and techniques. Sounds like figuring out how major affiliates are getting their credited traffic and how the merchant should reward that is WAY TOO MUCH WORK to expect from merchants. That leaves the spoils with the winners. Down market, less tech spend by merchants, less demand on networks to answer such problems, equals opportunity for innovative publishers to work to win more of the lion’s share.)

Larry at Google notes that Google’s AdSense people looked at their accounts a found many publishers not using AdSense. They didn’t understand how many good publishers with solid histories were no longer using AdSense. They didn’t “get” that the publishers were making more elsewhere. Panel asks “why would someone use AdSense if higher conversion for CPA? Larry notes that asymmetry between payout via CPC and payout via CPA… CPC payout is higher on average.

(now we’re back to the need for publishers to educate everyone about the value of affiliate, to raise that CPA payout). Steve notes that CPC is a crap shoot.. why take a chance on a $50 click if it might also be $0.50 – choose to take a negotiated CPA payout. Google looking to get more distribution for its advertisers by offering, for example, more CPA-like opportunities in the Google network.

Scott Shaffer says he asked merchants what they wanted from publishers, and many said “new customers”. But rewards were not tracking new customers and the merchants had not incentivized the affiliates to send “new customers”. He advocates individual attention.. networks can’t achieve the specifics of what merchants actually want.

im Jessup notes complication is the enemy… merchants can’t handle complexity. Improvement ideas all sound more complex. Merchants need to get more involved and understand better their channel. Scott says merchants need to push networks.. push them HARD because otherwise it has no incentive to change.

Where is the future heading?

Larry (Google): Social Networks .. it’s where consumers are, no one has figured out how to get the value out of the social networks. ComcastCares twitter guy is example.. responding to complains posted in twitter. Instead of “I hate comcast too” the conversation becomes “wow Comcast is trying to help me”. Using the power of the people is something to see in the next few years.. especially how to measure it. Also mobile.. will we see enough adoptions and support from publishers and merchants to make mobile a real transactional channel? Has potential… in Japan mobile commerce is huge… affiliate networks in Japan are seeing 40-50% of their sales via mobile.

Jim Jessup (Yahoo!): potential and risk associatd with ruining platforms like email got ruined, or text messaging which has not been killed yet by spam by could easily be ruined. Suggests consider carefully before ruining the media we are all benefiting from.

Scott Jangro : there’s a big value proposition in lookin more closely at affiliate marketing channel, which is opportunity to grow up, but it is a difficult financial environment so not sure when it can happen.

Steve Shaffer: the next network that brings the enabling tools will do well and get adopted. Make sure publishers know the payment is safe… if they are sure they are going to get paid, they will build momentum into the channel.

Why is GoDaddy Hawking Domains that are Unavailable?

I got an email from GoDaddy offering me Andrews.com for 25% off. That’s right, if I act now, I can get 25% off that wonderful domain name. Problem is, Andrews.com is not for sale. It is an active web site..as far as I can tell. See for yourself andrews.com.

I guess this is just an automated sales scam to incite interest in vanity domains in general, but I would have expected smarter behavior out of GoDaddy. Seems pretty lame to be pitching YourName.com to 6 million plus customers if the majority of the surnames are already owned, operated, or otherwise in play outside of any domain marketplace available to GoDaddy.

Of course I could be wrong. Maybe millions of people get these emails and say “well, looks like I can’t get Andrews.com but look! GeorgePrestonAndrewsIII.com is still available! And only $10.99! Woot!

But then, what do I know, except it is spam in my book and it quickly prompted me to opt out of any further mailings from GoDaddy. I know… I’ve always been a little different.

Retail Store Closings : You’re Not Surprised, Are You?

The Doom and Gloom Media has been busy announcing the impact of the EvilEconomy on retail. Stores are closing. Retailers are going bankrupt. Blah blah blah. The question I have is, are YOU surprised to hear this?

We are web entrepreneurs. In a down economy, we do well. In an up economy, we do well. There are different reasons in each case, but over the past 10 years the Internet retail economy has grown. Are you surprised to hear that offline retail is having trouble? Where did you think the sales were coming from?

Black Friday comes in late November. Think about that. From January until late November, off line retailers run a loss. They recover in late November, and turn a profit during the holiday shopping season. The credit system crashed and now those retailers are closing because, well, because they need someone else’s cash to keep them afloat for the first 11 months of the year. About that “surprise” thing…

We are on the web because it is profitable. We enjoy the web because the infrastructure supports business. Our efforts marketing on the web can be compounded. We can build momentum. Companies like Zappos can start with shoes and move on to clothing or eyewear or salt grinders as it tests positive. Smart business is possible on the web. I don’t know a single web entrepreneur who would sit back and lose money from January until November, confident of catching up and turning a profit based on November-December holiday sales. Necessity is the mother of invention. Monetization models have evolved in response to that need to turn a profit and monetize the potential.

So when an industry research group says to expect 70,000 retail store closings in 2009 (or 150,000), where is the surprise? Where is the opportunity?

Everywhere around you, provided you are on the web.

I chose those words carefully. If you are on the web, you understand the web retail model. That might give you the smarts you need to succeed in the down economy off the web as well as on the web. That’s right… being on the web gave you what you need to succeed off the web. Sucks to be an offline retailer right about now, right? No clue about surviving on the web? I think it always sucked to be a business that accepted a late November break even point. Or it should have. And now that the piper has to be paid, those retailers get the bill.

Web entrepreneurs can go after the markets formerly served by offline retail, as it makes sense to do so. If 150,000 retail stores shutter in 2009, society will see some changes. Some things are still broke, and given new needs waiting to be filled, someone will fix them.

A few observations:

The Credit Card System is Broken: too few players are taking too much of the profits. It supports too much fraud. It stifles innovation (such as in the area of micropayments). It’s too complex (for merchants) and too expensive (for merchants) while being too restrictive (to consumers) while supporting abusive, irresponsible behavior (e.g. banks). We need to throw it out.

The Shipping System is Broken: Whatever you want, you can buy it online as long as you pay shipping fees, which are set any number of ways by multiple profit-sharing partners, using a few often dysfunctional shippers. My small box from Gary’s Wine in New Jersey to Seattle was quoted at $5 using Fedex. It took 20 days to arrive. A check was sent from Texas to Seattle (again via Fedex) with a tracking priority. The FedEx driver noted it was delivered to “other than the addressee” and surprise – I never got it. An “investigation” by FedEx resulted in an assurance to me that the driver had in fact delivered it to the right address, despite his own initial admission, and despite the name of the signature not matching anyone working at the true destination address. FedEx doesn’t care. It doesn’t have to. The consumer has no choice but use the shipper the merchant offers. There are only two. The merchant has no choice but accept the promise of the shipper. Would I have accepted a $15 shipping cost added to my little box of wine accessories? Gary’s would much rather worry about shipping cases of premium wine all around the country than my $30 order for wine gadgets.

Quality Brands are Poorly Represented on the Web: Would you buy a Rolex watch from a web vendor? Would you pay full price for a Louis Vuitton handbag over the web? What about a high-quality leather belt? Or perhaps a better question for today might be, is it more likely that a $90 black belt sold at Macy’s today is actually worth $90, or that a $90 black belt purchased from a web site is actually worth $90? Target that issue.. it’s a need waiting to be filled. The best we can do today is ask the consumer to either travel to Macy’s on the one day per year that belt is marked down from $150 to $90, or place a bet that the $70 belt seen in a picture on a web site is actually a good belt, accept the associated online purchasing risks, pay the $10 shipping charge, and accept the risk of an additional $12 return shipping cost if it isn’t what we wanted. The time we actually get a great $90 belt for a total cost of $80, we wish we had ordered two for $150 (but alas… it is too late). Is that efficient commerce?

I could go on. I won’t, but some industry analysts should. Stop predicting that stores running a debt 11 months of the year are likely to close, and start working on analyzing the support systems for the NewCommerce we are left with. We need to better understand how it will evolve to fill needs. How it needs to evolve to satisfy us.

There is so much room for innovation on the web. We’ve barely begun to tap into the potential. Stop marveling at the mystique of the “long tail” theory and get to work as a merchant. What happens when the local store can’t compete on anything that actually is-as-it-appears-to-be (because it is a safe, discounted sale over the web), but does well selling everything that is likely-not-what-it-appears-to-be when viewed online? Mitigate risk offline. Mitigate risk online. Serve a need. And if you can’t think of any of my needs except my need to buy holiday gifts, well, then you probably don’t deserve to be a merchant.

Expand that collapsing retail economy to the landlords passing on market rates because they still hope to find tenants willing to pay bankruptcy-inspiring retail rates per square foot. Expand that collapsing retail economy to the New Jersey malls who insist on $6000 per month for a powerless aisle cart, with a reservation on the months of November and December (so they can still bid it out for the holiday season). A whole collection of misguided players in the established retail industry are in for a surprise if this credit crunch holds out long enough for the rest of us to innovate without the help of the banks, credit card vendors and politicians.

By the way, why are we still trading decimal dollars through a corrupt banking system, paying high fees for the privilege? Why can’t my buying power, transferred across the web to me from others, and subsequently put to work by me (on the web) in similar trade, avoid moving in and out of that corrupt, expensive banking system? Why oh why are we so willing to hand a portion of the proceeds to Visa or MasterCard or Bank of Whatever? Don’t answer that.. re-ask it of your local congresswoman. And re-ask it again every time they nickel and dime you on currency conversions, late fees, shortened grace periods, rising default interest rates, and annual fees.

Sometimes change is good. Stop marveling at it and get busy riding the wave. Ask yourself, what have you go to lose?

What is a Super Affiliate? On the Business of Affiliate Marketing

I’m not much of an affiliate marketer these days but with Affiliate Summit coming up in a few weeks, I’m communicating quite a bit with the affiliate community. I do play in the affiliate game, and as an SEO consultant of course I work closely with affiliates and publishers who work with affiliates. Yes, I have been a “Super Affiliate“, defined as it was defined not by me or some make-money-fast blogger selling Get Rich ebooks, but by the merchants paying the affiliate commissions. So when I saw Jeremy over at Shoemoney try and define Super Affiliate for himself, I read the whole article looking for something close to what I understood Super Affiliate to be. Jeremy did the smart thing – he asked people in the game what was meant by the term “Super Affiliate”. Not too surprisingly, everyone had a different answer. Most were based on some monetary threshold (makes XXX per day/month/whatever). That’s not how I learned it.

So what exactly is a Super Affiliate?

For smaller operations, SEO is Competitive Webmastering. For larger industries/companies, the playing field is more complicated. There are ancillary players (such as SEOs and PPC affiliates) monetizing through mainstream players in that market (the merchants). In larger markets or more competitive niche markets, the merchant may not be ranking competitively or advertising heavily. In those cases merchants may come to rely on affiliates for the Internet marketing (traffic). In a nutshell, that is what Affiliate Marketing is…. online marketing on behalf of someone else, on a commission basis.

So when does an affiliate become a Super Affiliate? The affiliate model works very well as long as the merchant remains the primary industry player for the market. But what if the affiliate controls the market? What happens to the business model of the merchant when the affiliate marketer achieves so much influence over the revenue stream that the merchant has to negotiate with that Super Affiliate directly, in order to keep the traffic?

A Super Affiliate is an affiliate with enough market leverage to warrant significant 1:1 attention from the merchant. A Super Affiliate is a key partner of the merchant. If the Super Affiliate were to pull her traffic from the merchant, the merchant would lose ground in the market, not just referral traffic. Conversely, if a Super Affiliate were to move that traffic to a competing merchant, the market dynamics would shift immediately. This helps explain why Super Affiliates enjoy so much leverage.

I have to admit things have changed quite a bit since I was an active player in the affiliate market.  The threat of Super Affiliates was very real, so naturally the market responded to that threat with risk management. Affiliate Networks evolved to retain more control over the referral process, and merchants worked hard to make sure their businesses could better tolerate the risk. Affiliate managers appeared to help companies survive the whims of the 100% profit-oriented Super Affiliates. Pay per click helped merchants as well, once they understood it enough, and the PPC networks helped by imposing additional “controls”. As the world moved on line, web technologies were institutionalized, leaving less opportunity for Super Affiliates to completely dominate unless they, too, evolved.

As it became clear that risk management tools were moving into the hands of merchants, many of the “older” Super Affiliates bundled up their market-owning networks and sold them out to the dominant industry players for serious money. Some actually bought the merchants out and took complete control of the markets they dominated (moving up the food chain). Others simply adapted to the new rules, moving into PPC and working harder for less money, or researching new “market inefficiencies” to exploit. I think many of the revenue threshold based definitions given to Shoemoney represent a modern acceptance of the new rules of the managed affiliate game. The vendor sets the rules, and the affiliate deliver traffic to earn commissions. Despite making serious money, many of those earners are not Super Affiliates.

So I define a Super Affiliate according to the amount of leverage the affiliate has with the vendor paying the commissions. A vendor will look at it’s sources of revenue and decide for itself who is a Super Affiliate. Maybe the top 5 affiliates produce 80% of the online revenues. Maybe the top 50% produce 80%. Or maybe the top 2 affiliates produce 90% of the revenues. In any case, the vendor needs to manage risk, and often that includes special treatment for the top producers (the Super Affiliates). Even with the complicated multi-tiered commission models in place today, Super Affiliates enjoy better terms than the rest of the affiliates contributing traffic to the stream.

So how do you know if you are a Super Affiliate? Ask your vendor ” Am I a Super Affiliate?”, and listen carefully to the response. You might be surprised at what you can learn (hint hint). And if you can’t ask your vendor directly, then you already have your answer. If you are an affiliate and you think the business of affiliate marketing is traffic, I remind you that the business of business is business.

Updated: I was referring to vendors as “publishers” because initially the web publishers hired on SEOs and made deals with affiliate marketers. Nowadays the affiliate networks provide a means for any merchant to sell on the web, the affiliates are called “publishers”, and the vendors are “merchants”. I updated accordingly.

Japanese Protest Google Privacy Invasions

Japanese quality of life and humanitarian advocates are referring to Google as that big, bad IT behemoth formerly known as Cyberdyne Systems (Terminator movies).

“It is necessary to warn society that an IT giant is openly violating privacy rights, which are important rights that the citizens have, through this service.”

They are calling for a ban of Google street view for Japanese cities. Google thinks it’s cool to video tape everyone’s neighborhoods and homes and put it onto the Internet for the public to peruse. Not everyone agrees this is a good idea. The question is, does Google need permission? Perhaps a better question is, did Google ever think to ask?

It’s too easy to point to some good that comes from these innovations to justify any objections. History reminds us that major wars have resulted from social blunders and insulting indifference. Just as overly-direct, geeky nerds are often considered abrupt and rude due to their tendency to overlook basic common courtesies, Google has become a humanitarian embarassment. Yes, it’s way cool to do amazing things with public data. No, it’s not cool to force it down our throats.

Here’s to hoping Google gets a clue before someone starts throwing more shoes.

“no known copyright restrictions” is not FREE

The New York Public Library just contributed 1300 images to the Flickr Commons database. These are scans of photographs from the library’s collection. Flickr has them marked as “no known copyright restrictions“. They are from late 1800’s and early-mid 1900’s from what I have seen. They are attributed to photographers in most cases I reviewed.

Can you use them on your web sites?

Of course not. The rights to photographs usually belong to the photographers, and are licensed to others for specific uses. In cases where the photographer has placed the photographs into the public domain, or otherwise given them away, the people in the photos still retain rights to the use of their image. Even though a photographer owns the copyright of the image, he does not have permission to allow the use the image by others if the image includes something protected (such as a face or building or work of art). A photographer must obtain expressed written permission to use someone’s likeness, often done with a model release agreement. For certain structures and works of art, permission must be obtained from the holder of the rights to publish reproductions of that object. If you publish the image, you need to have proof in hand that  you have permission to use that image commercially.
Flickr has no such permissions to pass along to you. The New York Public Library admits it doesn’t even know if those documents are required for any given image, or if they ever existed. This is explained behind a link on the Flickr site:

Even though the images we have uploaded to The Commons on Flickr are in the ” public domain” and thus not subject to copyright restrictions, these photos may be subject to other third party rights, such as rights of privacy and rights of publicity. In all instances, you are required to obtain all necessary permissions before using our photos. For example, if you find a photo from NYPL’s collections that includes a person, you would be responsible for obtaining the permission of the person in the photo before you use the photo. Please read the Terms and Conditions of our website for more

In short, the risk is yours to assume. If you have a commercial website, you can be sued for the value of the commercial use of an image after the fact. In other words, the person in the photo is entitled at least to the value a model would have received for that use, and possibly more if the use is in conflict with that person’s desired public image.

Be careful about using images commercially (including on sites that draw traffic to AdSense ads). “no known copyright restrictions” does not mean it is free to use.

The most important thing to consider is that your use of images in violation of  copyright laws has been used by corporations to argue that they should be allowed to use someone’s image or likeness in their own advertisements, for free. That’s right – they would love to grab images from the web and use them on their ads without paying any models or photographers. So if you think you are helping to improve the world by ignoring arcane copyright laws, you may discover yourself enabling a whole new world where you find your smiling facebook profile on an ad for the latest herpes creme, or your wedding portrait in an ad for a divorce attorney.

We need to fix and improve our copyright laws, not eliminate them.

He Can’t Play but He Sure Can Edit

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JzqumbhfxRo&autoplay=1 350 350]

Gotta love the cranium taps. Found at Hedge’s House

Amazon Trolled: Brilliant Social Commentary Cloaked as Innovation

This is was beautiful. If you don’t appreciate the beauty, that’s ok. There is no accounting for taste. As an old teacher of mine once preached, in art there is not your taste and my taste but simple taste. You simply have taste, or you do not. Lucky for most of us, there is always opportunity to acquire taste.

The web is disruptive. The web is beautiful because it is so enabling…. and much of that which is enabling is, in fact and almost by definition, disruptive. Very few Big Corporations get this. One that does is IBM. Inside it’s bowels, IBM understands innovation like few corporations do. Watch IBM (if you can) and you can learn a great deal about success. Watch Amazon, and … well… what do we learn?

Corporations that grab on to innovation and exploit it, soon become ripe for disruption themselves. We know this.. they know this… and that’s why they have lawyers. Amazon, like Google and Verizon and every other Big Player in tech, hires large teams of lawyers to protect their exploitive positions. To resist disruption as long as possible.

This project is was beautiful. It takes the very definition of the web as platform for innovation, and turns it seemingly against it’s supporters, as if to solicit response. Amazon was the target, and Amazon got trolled.

Argue all you like if this was an intentional artistic parody or not, but that does not matter. It functioned perfectly. Amazon exposed itself… susceptible, vulnerable Amazon, a corporation lacking the cajones needed to survive on an innovative open platform like the world wide web. I doubt IBM would have responded this way. I know Verizon would. I’m not sure about Google… I’d love to see someone troll Google with such aplomb.

Of course none of this matters if we continue to meddle with free enterprise through protectionism and politics the way we have been for half a decade now. But at least such “art projects” serve to expose the players for who they really are… and that is beautiful no matter what your “taste” in art.

references:

A guy who gets It

For each article by a Guy Who Doesn’t Get It, I try to find one from a guy who does, without looking for it by author. I found one. It’s about the “tech industry cycle” and right now, and uses OpenID as an example. Perfect. From the conclusion:

The trick in each cycle is to fight complexity, so the growth can keep going. But you can’t keep it out, engineers like complexity, not just because it provides them job security, also because they really just like it. But once the stack gets too arcane, the next generation throws their hands up and says “We’re not going to deal with that mess.”

And of course, from a tech development perspective (as opposed to a marketing business strategy perspective), OpenID is a glaring irregularity:

For a clue to how deeply mired in crud we are right now, check out this discussion among users and developers about OpenID. No one has a clue what problem its supposed to solve.

The only way this article could be better is if it recognized OpenID as the web-corrupting marketing strategy that it is… adding little value to the web, while locking down market identities for use by the Big Boys. Yeah, them’s fightin’ words, but it’s been obvious since Passport failed and Liberty drew certain tech players into evangelism. As always, watch the people if you want to recognize the underlying mission. Past behavior is indicative of future performance.

For the SEO angle, think abut complexity and how it has consumed so much of our SEO resources. I predict more and more SEO Consultants will be using primarily Google tools for their client SEO project management going forward (to keep costs down and make life easier), and that the SEO Toolsets (such as Raven SEO) will continue to develop as quality, almost comprehensive SEO project management systems (increasing in cost like analytics did after GA was released). Tight communities like SEOBook and Shoemoney Tools will either increase loyalty/commitment or lose focus (the latter not likely for either of those mentioned – they are both valuable to their members).

We might even see some mergers between such tools-based communities and well-established link directory businesses (Best of the Web) and affiliate markets (Pepperjam). Simplicity is key… but hard to achieve, for sure.

Ted Leonsis’ Crazy Ideas, Revisited

My friend Ted Leonsis has decided to contribute to the brain storming taking place inside the Obama Transition camp (unofficially). Ted, longtime lover of lists, has offered his “10 crazy ideas” which he says “would be short term unpopular but would work in the long term and we would leave a better world and a safer world to the next generation“.

Well, I’ve reviewed Ted’s Crazy Ideas and frankly, I find Ted’s perspective quite odd. A curious combination of patriarchal grandfather and guilt-ridden robber baron, with a few classical ideas sprinkled in for flavor. I’ve decided to add my own younger-than-Ted-Leonsis analysis to his 10 Crazy Ideas. What about you? Feel free to comment:

Ted Leonsis’ 10 Crazy Ideas, with commentary:

1. Make retirement age 70 not 65. Social security benefits are killing our nation. We can’t afford it. People are living longer and retiring earlier. We should make people work and be productive and pay taxes for a longer period of time – heresy I know – but truthful and needed. We need more productivity from all of our workers, 70 is the new 60 anyway. Who said 65 years of age was a retirement birthright anyway? This will save hundreds and hundreds of billions of dollars.

I remember when my grandfather acted this way. He was about 65 at that time, and was facing retirement when he personally felt he was at the top of his game. He had all the right connections, and was King of his circles. Retire? Are you kidding? Truth was, his peers were all granting him authority and being nice to him because he was the oldest of the old guard, and encouraging him to retire because, well, the world had changed. My grandfather even wrote his President (Jimmy Carter) with some of his own Crazy Ideas. Carter didn’t adopt his plans, but my grandfather received a “Presidential Proclamation” which he proudly displayed on his family room wall throughout his retirement years.
 
It’s tough to recognize when it’s time to let go. Ideas are always welcomed (and needed). But asking the rest of us to work longer to support a system prior generations broke is not one of the better ones. Save money? I doubt it. While a few stodgy old timers will show up at work every day, I can only imagine the increases in workers comp and disability we’d see as 70 year olds suffered the beat-them-down workplace we younger-uns “enjoy” today. 

2. No Medicare or health benefits to people over 85. My dad died at 94 years of age. The majority of the expenses racked up for his Medicaid benefit were from 92 to 94 years of age. People are living longer and using very expensive technology to squeeze a few more years of life for the elderly is a luxury we cannot afford…

Can’t say I disagree with the premise (it costs more to keep old people alive) but no benefits? Think of a world of sick and dying people with no care… the next time your little old lady neighbor scoots off to the ward consider that, under Ted’s Plan, she would instead stay right there next door to you, sick and dying..all night long. And that charming homless old guy in the alley would have lots of sick, less-likely-to-be-charming old friends living with him for sure. And this would boost US productivity how exactly? Seriously Ted, take a chill pill. Less extravagant life extending technologies on the public dole, yes. No benefits? Please.

3. Mandatory service. All graduating students from college MUST serve in a public service position for two to three years. The Government will pay them a stipend of which 25 percent of all payments go into a mandatory savings plan or the parents’ mandatory savings plan. All college debts must be paid off via the service career and after two to three years, the students can go into the world with real world experience with no debts and with cash savings in the bank. The students should all work in positions with the police; fire departments; hospitals; military; Peace Corps, etc. Help us to rebuild our infra-structure or educational systems. This move will help rebuild a sense of community and teach young adults the power of having no debt and of having savings in the bank. And it will also inject a higher sense of purpose into our young adults.

Respectable idea, but think about it. Two to three years in the public workforce will kill the enthusiasm of almost any worker,let alone ambitious young ones fullof new,outside-the-box ideas. That first job sets the stage for career performance expectations going forward. Can you imagine the second job’s boss dealing with the recent college grad just out of 3 years service work at…. the Post Office? or the department of motor vehicles? Please. Reality check, Ted. Public Service – great idea. Mandatory government sector employment immediately after college? A poison pill for our entire nation. I totally agree the student loan system is our next collective bailout, but wouldn’t it be wiser to act now to stop the abuses leading to the doomsday? Stop the fraud, Ted. Don’t change everything… just stop the fraud.

4. No tax cuts for the middle class or wealthy for four years. We should focus all of our energies and dollars to lift the poorest of the poor out of poverty. That should be our priority. The poorest of the poor need the help immediately and in all of our budgets, they receive less than 15 percent of all dollars. I would cut the overall budgets but amp up dollars to the ones that need it most. This could save us hundreds of billions of dollars and get more equality into the system; cut waste; and really help those who need it;

tax cuts always have appeal but honestly, the tax system needs an overhaul Ted,not more patches.

5. Tax cuts in the form of a government grant to a savings account. All other forms of tax cuts would go via check into a mandatory savings account that is established for each American household and placed in an FDIC-insured bank. If we stimulate consumer savings, banks will have money to loan to people and we won’t have to borrow money from other nations. I was amazed that the stimulus checks that were last sent were aimed at people going to a mall and using credit cards to charge up more stuff. We need to keep dollars in our own savings accounts. The government should make savings a mandatory program for each and every household. We will save hundreds and hundreds of billions of dollars in interest payments to foreign nations if we have more savings in US based banks;

Didn’t we just learn that any money socked away by legislation adds up to trillions of dollars and thus becomes a target for corruption and abuse? Trillions on account anywhere gets replaced by virtual money, printed by the treasury, traded by wealthy foreign “investors”, and wiped out by “perfect storms” of fraud (backed by bailouts crafted by corrupt politicians). Do we really need more of those? We don’t need more fake savings to be raided by the powers that be? We need less pressure on the citizenry to HAVE CASH, Ted. Less mandatory insurance, less mandatory monthly payments (such as no TV unless you pay for cable), lower monthly bills for heat, water, and city/local taxes. We need a lot more change than another tax cut plan.

6. Less technology for our military. Technology is hyper expensive to maintain and keep relevant and it allows us to save lives because we send machines to do the work of people. If more people’s lives were at stake in a skirmish or war, our leaders would think twice about sending young Americans to fight for us. We have become so automated and high tech that our bills are astronomical and our trigger fingers are too easily placed on the wrong buttons. Slow down the technology spending for awhile and add more people to the service. It will create jobs, cut costs and make us more concerned about a policing action overseas. This will save us more than $100 billion and the world will be safer;

Again Ted is ignoring the people problem. Technology makes people more effective and systems more efficient. Bad management prevents that from happening, and makes trying more expensive. Corruption is responsible for the high costs of implementing and maintaining. Corruption comes in part from the furstrations of trying to survive a burdensome and unfair system. I figured Ted would know this, being a technology exec and all.

7. Stop acting like we are a super world power when we are the biggest debtor in the world. …And isn’t it ironic that Communist countries now have better economies than ours? We need to face facts and stop being a debtor nation and become a savings-based economy;

Wow Ted sounds like a commie! Just kidding… I can’t disagree on the basic premise, but this is a WAY complicated issue. Screw up world politics and you’ll get your buildings blown up or become a slave nation to some other nation comprised of less caring bullies (ever see those YouTube videos of truly evil Young Russian soldiers abusing people at check points…for fun? War is hell, not a political exercise or strategy game. Let’s not make light of how evil war is… being in the middle on military commitment is a bad idea. Fight if you must, but then fight to win. Like I said, Ted and I might agree on much of this, but it’s too complicated for one often Crazy Ideas.

8. We need to birth more children. People are living longer and, at the same time, we are having fewer children. At some point soon we will flip and we will have less people being born than are dying off. This is a real problem. It means no growth of populace and productivity will decrease and we will be an old and decrepit nation. We need to celebrate children. We need to reward marriages with tax breaks. We need to reward people having more children. Guess who is the most productive nation on earth now? China. Why? They have all of the manpower and know how to manufacture goods. We need to birth more children to keep the country and economy growing and we need to create programs that shed light on the power of marriage and dual family households. Divorce and single family households are big drivers of poverty and issues for our country. We need to embrace true family values because it has an economic underpinning for our nation besides all of the goodness that comes from a true family environment;

Um…I know you love grand kids, Ted, but here’s a clue: China is productive not because they have so many babies, but because they are desperate for wealth. Greed, desire, and opportunity produce what you are calling “productivity”, especially when thegovernment says “go ahead and pollute because we need the money first.. we can clean it up later“. We don’t need more babies yet Ted. We need less baby boomer executives making decisions, maybe, but let’s hold off on encouraging a new population explosion until we get a few other things sorted, okay?

9. We need to refocus our schools and business schools onto “making stuff” on manufacturing. Our best and brightest should be going into the tech sectors or to Detroit or innovating to ship overseas our green tech. We need to stop graduating people who want to work on Wall Street and think our business is about dollars and esoteric financial instruments. The government should pay for students to go into math – engineering, technology and manufacturing -and no scholarships for Wall Street-oriented positions. We need to be the best manufacturers of cars and appliances and household goods and computers and network systems in the world. When a company buys from the US based partners, they should get a tax break. Keeping our dollars here and not sending them overseas will create an economic stimulus that is beyond our wildest dreams. Once Detroit is reinvented to make hybrid and electric cars and we don’t need to buy foreign oil, our air will be cleaner; our debt will be smaller; and we will save trillions of dollars. It is absolute madness that we borrow a trillion dollars from China and Japan so we can then send it over to OPEC nations to get their oil. Stop that madness;

Lots of good intention in there Ted, but I hope you’re not suggesting we return to manufacturing? Better, faster ,cheaper needs to be redefined around sustainability and cost effectiveness. Make Walmart pay true costs for local landfill utilization, and I bet those big boxes in the big box stores would go away quickly. Dancing Elmo takes up less than one cubic foot (even less if squished) but he’s in a 4 cubic foot box on the shelf at Walmart for various reasons which include the fact that the costs of disposing of the packaging is being absorbed by the taxpayers. Fifty-thousand square foot stores have 300,000 square foot impervious parking lots.

We over-engineered virtually everything during the past 20 years so. Even your $8 garden hose gets rolled up onto a $45 plastic “hose holder system” these days… one for the front and another for the back yard. What was wrong with coiling the hose it up nicely on the ground in between uses? Is it really “less work to crank it into that plastic HoseHome device? Seriously Ted, we need less, not more. Less. Simpler. More reasonable living.

10. Government communications. The Government should do a mini-bailout for certain media companies and all newspapers. Traditional media is soon to go out of business. The Government should help prop up these institutions and in payback, all political media should be free. This way politicians won’t be so focused on fundraising and they can have the inventory to tell us what the content of their programs are and the media titans can try to be honest brokers to report on what is really happening. We need a thriving media to keep the process honest and working. The system is broken now. We give dollars to politicians who promise us the world. The politicians then give the monies to media companies to help them broadcast their message in a sound bite “No new taxes” so they can get elected or re-elected. The politicians are then in league with the donors. Let us just short circuit this craziness and have a real platform for communications and keep an independent media business thriving. It would make a lot of sense. If we are helping the banks and soon the car companies, we might as well help the media companies too and in return politicians will get free air time and space and we will be more informed consumers.

Oh my God, Ted Leonsis, King of Old New Media, just suggested more government involvement in the media via bailout. And he combined it with a mention of keeping “independent media thriving”. That’s it folks, we need to start planning for succession, no? Retirement time? My own limited listening to NPR this past election season demonstrated quite clearly how easily government money corrupts independent media, and I know Ted is smarter than this. He must be. He’s at the top of his game! He has all the right connections!

Affiliate Summit Las Vegas – Free Pass

If you use twitter you can easily enter into a drawing for a free conference pass to Affiliate Summit West in Las Vegas January 11-13. Just tweet “I want to meet @johnandrews at ASW #asw09” and you’ll be entered into a drawing. A free conference pass is given away every Monday until Jan 5th, drawn from the prior week’s tweets.

Of course the idea is that you tweet to different people (as many as you like) since that spreads the word about Affiliate Summit. Here are the details:

Affiliate Link Bashing and The Self-defeating Marketing community

I noticed that “Black Friday” is a very popular search term this month. I noticed that “Black Friday” is one of the top 5 topics on social platform Twitter. Of course there are affiliate marketing opportunities surrounding Black Friday, because it is a shopping event. Black Friday is followed by Cyber Monday, known as the biggest Internet shopping day. So obviously Cyber Monday, although not as well known as Black Friday, is big for affiliates, since millions of referring affiliate links will be driving the traffic that leads to those sales.

I noticed someone posted an Amazon.com “Black Friday” link to Twitter, using a URL shortening service similar to twiturl.com. When I looked closely I noticed it was an affiliate link to Amazon. Cool, I thought. Innocuous, harmless, helpful and covert. I wondered what sort of adoption that link experiences.

Today I noticed yet another search community member bashing affiliate links, specifically those posted to twitter. It happens too often. Why?

Spam is spam, but affiliate links are not spam. If someone posts a self-serving message to his audience and includes a self-serving affiliate link, then the audience is in control. Garbage is garbage. If you don’t like the message or post or comment or tweet, that’s fine. You are free to handle it. But the affiliate link should not be the cause for your dislike. The affiliate link is a perfect vehicle for referrals. Every industry wishes it had an accountable, trackable, meaningful means to refer potential customers like we do. And if the link is meaningful, innocuous, harmless, and helpful plus covert, all the better! But “covert” in this context is incorrect – I should say “unobtrusive“. There is nothing wrong with the affiliate link in proper supportive context. And if there is a spammy post meant only to carry a self-serving affiliate link, there is still nothing wrong with the link. The spammer might be offensive, or the post exploitative, but not the link.

I find the search community self-defeating. The world doesn’t consider affiliate links to be spam, only these self-defeating search marketers do. And the more they say so in public, the more the public is influenced to view affiliate links as unworthy. Why is that?

Commerce is something that must be driven. Commerce doesn’t happen by itself. The intent to buy might be spontaneous, by the act of buying must be prompted by some commercial driver. Sometimes it is an advertisement that creates warm fuzzy associations between a purchase and a person. The ad drives commerce. Sometimes it is a coupon that ties a purchase to an added value, causing the actual purchase to take place even in cases where the intent to buy pre-existed for quite some time. Very often endorsements drive commerce. Given no other knowledge, I’ll buy what my doctor says is best. Of course the doctor doesn’t use an affiliate link, but are we dumb enough to believe the doctor isn’t participating in an affiliate program? Have you ever heard of the pharmaceutical industry?

I think every link should be an affiliate link, because almost every link drives commerce. Someone is potentially gaining commercial value every time I link to anything that leads to commerce. Google knows this, which is why Google is a search engine. Google has gone after the ripest, lowest-hanging fruit on the tree – un-monetized value injected into the system by those who link without affiliate tracking codes. lately Google has been referring to “undisclosed affiliate links” as potentially felonious. I think that is an obscene abuse of the public trust. Of course I am not referring to “free” scams that are not actually free, lotteries no one can possibly win, or negative opt-in programs that obligate you without your explicit permission, or ones that lock the consumer into a costly situation beyond the initial response transaction. Fraud is fraud, but affiliate links are not fraudulent.

Google would like nothing better than a law (with felonious teeth) forcing all links to be un-trackable. Google will settle for a law that requires all trackable links to be highlighted as suspect, or otherwise discountable via Google’s own aggressive business tactics. That helps Google secure a winfall of profits. Strangely, it appears that many search marketers not only accept this, but support it by bashing affiliate links as unworthy or spammy. And the oddest part of all of this is… those same people tend to complain when Google doesn’t pay webmasters back an adequate portion of profits via the AdSense “Nickels for You” webmaster program.

I have tried to understand this perspective, but failed. We webmasters inject value into the web, but are supposed to refrain from trying to track that contribution for some return (because affiliate links are spammy somehow?), and then we are supposed to participate in Google AdSense to try and eek a minimal fraction of the earned profits back, at the whim of Google, which takes the lion’s share?  That’s way inefficient, and wrong.

Instead, how about we stop bashing affiliate links, track every link we create, block Google from monetizing that value we’ve injected into the world wide web, and then we all participate in a giant tracked link share system that returns a fair portion of the profits according to each of our contributions to driving the commerce that led to those profits? Wow..that’d be great! Feel free to stop listening to anyone you find off-putting.

On second thought, that’s what we are doing with our affiliate links, isn’t it? Nice! We’re on the road to a better web world! Maybe it will eventually lead to a fair trade web.

I hope that people will consider contributing to that Greater Good by stopping the tarnishing of affiliate linking, and refraining from related self-defeating activities like “voluntary disclosure policies” and “nofollow” and “colored hats” for web publishing tactics. Despite what Google wants you to think, you do not need to highlight or disclose your affiliate relationships except in limited, government-regulated markets (like pharmaceuticals, licensed professions, etc) or in certain situations where fees are paid for promotion, or where you (or your affiliate upline) are actually defrauding the consumer. The FTC is a consumer advocate,not Google’s private police force: “The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them“.

Canon 5D Mark II in the hands of..imagers?

Not sure what to call them… they make photographs, videos, imagery. They’re getting their Canon 5D Mark II units as I type. The world changes now… this is a big deal, and it will get bigger.

Check out what Vincent Laforet  put together, even though he can’t publish full res video. Read his notes on the edit process… perhaps the greatest advance we will see in the next 6 months will come out of not only the actual technology of the Canon 5D MkII but  the energy and passion this advancement has stimulated in our creative associates.

If I were younger or able to make a living capturing light through my lenses, I’d be out there creating with my own 5D instead of writing about it on my blog.

Canon 5D Mark II DigitalSLR w/HD Video

The Canon 5D Mk II is shipping this week. This camera is a game-changer. A full-frame digital SLR (21.1 megapixel) that records 1080p HD video direct to flash card (as .mov files – no rendering required) at up to 6400 ISO. What does that mean:

  • an on-location photographer can also get HD video while on the scene
  • a $2600 digital SLR body includes an HD video camera for short sequences (10-20 seconds)
  • serious photographers with an existing collection of large, fast quality glass lenses can now use them for 1080p HD video

I am not expecting perfection from this first release Canon 5D MkII (remember the Canon 1d mk III focus problems), but I do fully expect this to change the game completely.  If you are a photographer and a web enrepreneur, how can you not see the opportunities this technology (and the improved technology that will likely follow it promptly) provides?

Ref: Review

SEOs Do Your Homework

One of the good things about the modern social web is the associated ease of communication with distant colleagues… people who do similar work, but with whom I would not otherwise communicate. Professional associations and meetings used to enable such connections. Today meetings bring us the face-to-face aspect of professional relationships, but  we largely make our connections ourselves, online.

Older generations would probably misunderstand an incoming email from a stranger that was on topic, specific, and interesting. I find it enriching. Lately, however, I wonder how many professional SEO practitioners actually do their homework. It’s not wise to talk specifics here, but consider the case of the exact-match, premium domain name deployed for search marketing such as lead-generation.

An SEO emails me with evidence and comments about the significant extra power Google is granting exact-match domains these days.  The exact-match site sits at #1 in Google for a very competitive search query, known to be a target of some very dedicated (and expensive) SEOs, funded by seriously aggressive businesses. How can one compete with that, if there can be only one exact-match .com domain?

With one look at the site, I noticed a very nice implementation of a modern content SEO strategy I use myself inmy work as an SEO consultant. Nicely done, I thought to myself. I didn’t even check the back links because I would rather look at the #2 and #3 sites. Given the content strategy at work in the #1spot, the status of #2 and #3 might tell me more of the story than a back link analysis. Sure enough, both #2 and #3 are old-school (circa 2007) content strategies.

I write “old school” partly in jest,  but I am serious. It’s not so much that I expect the SEO to have evolved so far that 2007 methods are easily recognized as “old school”, but that difference in this case is really quite obvious. Anyone looking at #1 would notice the difference. Non-marketers would even remark about how different the content is on the #1 site, compared to #2 and #3.

The SEO really needs to do hir homework.  That SEO home work is not “learn the latest content strategy from active SEO communities like the seobook.com private forums” (although that would be a valuable move for any SEO today), but rather pay attention to the ranking sites. Anyone would notice the difference in content between these sites I looked at this morning. An SEO should not only notice the difference, but wonder about it, ponder it, and be enlightened by it. We marketers look at web content differently than “regular people” do. We study keyword spaces. We see things regular people don’t see.
I think that any thinking SEO who didn’t already know about this particular content strategy would recognize it and learn it quickly from this query/SERP. THAT is the SEO homework. Pay attention to the SERP. Don’t be blinded by some internal belief system (“the exact match domain is all-powerful”), but rather look objectively and see what is there before applying SEO assumptions.

In this case, as in many others I have seen, the exact-match premium domain is icing on the cake but not the recipe for success. The content would have done extremely well on a lesser domain. I think back links could have made up any difference.

I consult to several premium generic domains and the irony is not lost on me – the greatest value that premium domain may bring to the extremely competitive keyword space is the mythical barrier it represents to SEOs who don’t do their homework. Bravo, I say. Bravo!

It’s Good Content, but is it “real”? Do you care?

The New York Times online is on a roll. I’m reading it again. Good writing, good stories, good photography, and (gasp!) hyperlink to other web sites! But as I admired this piece on a little foodie in New York City, I started to wonder. What kind of journalism is this now? Great photo. It tells a story. It’s actual photojournalism, which is so rare on the web. Then again… wait a sec… it’s a staged photo!

The story of a young boy in New York going on his own to a salumaria and sampling the offerings as a food critic… great story; very NY. And that photo! The lighting.. the faces… the movement of the server’s hand, the reflection from the window pane. Awesome photo… my only problem is, the photo credit is Michael Appleton… award winning photojournalist. There is no way he was there the day this story took place. So this must be a re-creation. A staged photo.

[Update: As Lea notes in the comments, the caption of the photo now says “on a subsequent visit to the Salumeria..”  I’ll gladly assume I missed that the first time, although the page is NOARCHIVE so I can’t look back to see if it was updated. It says the story was in the print edition November 17, 2008, on page A23 of the New York edition in case it matters. If I did miss that, much of this post is irrelevant…erroneous…. and so for now, I’m removing it. If it was changed, well, that’ll be a story for another day.

Yahoo GLUE Mashup

Another example… search engines need your content. What price do you set? See Yahoo! Glue Beta.

“Just Make Good Content” is Bullsh*t

The long running debate about White Hat vs. Black Hat search engine optimization (SEO) continues. It is getting harder and harder for the scammers to hide. The more they scam the world, the more money they make, but over time the impact of those scams starts to show. With exposure comes embarrassment, but embarrassment rarely bothers scammers.

Most scammers will ignore  criticism, continuing to grab the cash “while the vault door is open“. After all, they got where they are by exploit, so further exploit is easily attempted with little emotional effort. We heard today that the “big 3” auto makers came to Washington DC to beg for bailout money, flying private luxury jets costing an estimated $20,000 per seat.  Do these executives need a bailout? Sure they do. Their companies are close to failure. Have they benefited from taxpayer benevolence in the past? Sure they have. Jobs are at stake. There are so many issues at play, that if these scammers just keep pushing with a straight face, they are likely to get at least some free money.

Just like AIG did… the guys who begged for a bailout and then, after receiving it, took a luxury vacation (also via private jets) at taxpayer expense. Scammers do very well these days.

So who are the real scammers in SEO? I’m going to list some of them:

  • Google
  • Yahoo!
  • White Hat SEOs

That’s right. I called Google and the White Hat SEOs the scammers. It is my belief that “just make good content” is bullshit put forth by scamming search engines cashing in on our collective productivity. “Just Make Good Content” has never been true. As publishers believed this claim, they put out creative content for free, while spending a fortune to create it. Photographers, editors, journalists…everyone continued to contribute productivity to the creation of that “good content”. But have they been paid? This vault door of the web has been open to search engines for years now, and the scam is slowly becoming obvious as Yahoo! and Google struggle with unusual economic conditions. Just as auto makers and banks have suffered, search engines will suffer because advertising spend tracks the economies stress, and search engines make their money from advertising. The creators, all along, continue to contribute content (work harder, actually), largely for “free”.

Just make good content, and you don’t need specialized SEO tactics” say the search engines. The mantra is repeated by The Followers, including self-proclaimed “White Hat SEO” practitioners. Unfortunately, those White Hat SEO people are part of the scam. They are usually working on the client’s dime, helping to publish the client’s content to help feed the Google beast. Often they repeat the “Good Content” mantra as a form of SEO strategy, encouraging the client to invest more productivity (or to pay for others to create it) as a means of gaining search traffic. And it works..to a degree. Of course it does. The scammers (the search engines) have to make sure it works. It’s part of the con. The Long Tail is part of the con. And they all need to propagate the con. More content trumps less content… for now, as long as you consider long tail traffic a success metric.

Did you know many self-professed “White Hat” search marketers outsource their actual SEO work to others who are not so White? No big surprise there, because we all know a successful business involves sales and marketing as well as operations. If “White Hat” SEos are hiring gray hat or other hat SEOs to do the actual work, well…who’s been fooled?

A few years ago Jason Ca1canis stood up at an SEO conference (where he was an invited speaker) and proclaimed “SEO is Bullshit“. He then created a low-quality, pure SEO play along the “just create good content” strategy. The scam was well done… a few years later we still see his low quality content earning profitable search traffic. Search engines got the message…Jason was joining the scam, would not rock the boat (although he clearly could have), and was willing to sacrifice whatever integrity he might have had at that time towards the Open Vault Door cause. Everybody wins, right? Search engines make money, Jason makes money…the scam continues to evolve. The web didn’t get an amazing new information resource, but nobody cares.

Today we have Yahoo! suffering much like the Big 3 automakers are suffering – under bad management. Yahoo! has Flickr and Zimbra and many other valuable properties. Yahoo! has advertisers, and Yahoo! has the #2 search engine. But that’s not enough… they think they need a bailout of sorts. Based on what I have seen, they need an attitude adjustment more than anything else.

Meanwhile,”Just Make Good Content” takes on a new form at Yahoo!. Take a look at the “good content” apparently created by Bills.com, republished (I assume sans permission) on “Yahoo! Answers” where it ranks highly in search engines and earns money for Yahoo! and its partners. The Bills.com article is here http://www.bills.com/blog/cash-call-loan-default/ and Yahoo! answers republishes it in context here http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20071108171314AADHSue. Oh sure that’s “user generated content” and we can’t possibly expect Yahoo! to police everything posted by users, can we? (see my list of ways scammers handle criticism, above).

It looks as if Bills.com created and publishes many articles of “good content”, probably on the advice of a White Hat SEO. That is a ton of content for an otherwise small web site with little editorial input into the consumer information space. I’d guess it was expensive to produce. Can you imagine a company’s marketing department recommending a 300 page printed brochure? This web content will be even more expensive to defend, as search engines like Yahoo! and Google enable copyright infringers to profit (while sharing in those profits). Is Bills.com really expected to file DMCA actions for every article illegally copied into Yahoo! answers? It’s all part of the scam. Just one small example, of which there are many.

Last month Google settled with book publishers, and will be publishing scanned out-of-print books pretty soon. That original scam didn’t go so well, but still holds promise. First, Google apparently paid libraries for access to scanning books, but didn’t get away with publishing them because they were sued. Now they’ve settled. I have to ask though, is a $125 million dollar settlement really enough to fund future generations of writers seeking publishers? Or are the book publishers cashing out? We don’t know the complete terms Google got when it agreed to pay to play with copyrighted but out-of-print books, but there is a back story. And once again, Google shafts the creators (artists) in order to pay the business people (Google and publishers). Those books are out of print not because there is no demand for them, but because publishers choose not to reprint them. Authors may want their works reprinted, and readers may want to buy copies, but publishers choose not to reprint unless they will sell huge numbers of books. So even though it is “out of print”, it is not worthless.

This is another case of Google stifling creativity. What we really need is a print on demand industry that can accommodate the long tail demand for short run prints of copyrighted works. Print on demand, for example. Just because the publishers aren’t willing to invest in their own futures, should they be given the right to sell that future to Google for $125 million? Maybe Google will figure out a way to micro-distribute… but that will be a first for Google in the “charge for access to content” department. So far they have wanted everything to be “free”. This really sounds more like one of those methods by which scammers respond to criticisms – step up, acknowledge the problem, make a deal that can be exploited later, and move on to scam anew in the now “authorized” environment.

Some might think this post is harsh…calling Google and White Hat SEOs “scammers”. Those same people will probably cite this post as “BlackHat” or supportive of Black Hat SEO. Whatever. They miss the point. I fully expect that one day, after Google has executed enough of these “contracts” that try and bind whole classes of rights holders, she will promote some seemingly grass roots effort to revise copyright laws, using something like that stupid “you have no privacy – get over it” argument. Everything else is part of the setup. The Black Hat SEOs I know understand fully that they are exploiting time-limited opportunities, just like Google does. They are far more realistic than the White Hat SEOs, who seem to think the search engines are paving a golden road to a bright new media world. They are (paving a new road), but it’s not (bright).

But there is hope. As I have admonished my blog readers before, before you support copy-left or some other “information wants to be free” endeavor, think through the consequences. Before you proclaim yourself a “White Hat SEO” and preach the “More content! More content!” mantra, think about how things really work in our world.

The photo here shows a 16 year old Whatcom Warrior youth ice hockey player crashing through a West Vancouver Midget opponent, breaking his stick in half on the way through. I captured that action in a dimly lit, low-budget ice rink. I needed an expensive glass lens, an expensive high-speed camera, and plenty of time dedicated to learning to shoot amateur ice hockey. When a news outfit places a photographer onto the scene, that photographer is backed by purchased equipment (self insured) a processing lab, and a fraction of an editorial team. Hopefully a few photos like this one tell the story of the game. But who pays for the equipment and time? If you copy this photo and spread it on the web, Google makes money from that. But Google doesn’t fund the photographer’s equipment, and Google doesn’t buy that 16 year old kid a replacement stick ($175). (So if you’re flush and feeling generous, consider buying an ad placement or making a donation to the WCAHA so the kids can keep playing! http://www.WhatcomHockey.com).

I am 100% in favor of the new web economy disrupting systems that don’t work, but first we need to make sure we the people survive the transition. “Just Make Good Content” isn’t paying the real bills for many of the very real people formerly employed in the content generation businesses. It’s not improving society, and it’s not enriching lives beyond those of Google and White Hat SEOs. It’s exploitative of the majority, to the extent that the content does not strategically position a business to grow in a healthy fashion. More content creates noise, which begets more noise. Black Hat and non-White Hat SEOs execute in that environment, helping users find what they actually want amongst the noise. They are actually helping society. So of the SEO “flavors”, which is more exploitative? White Hat by far.

So what is the “take away”?

Personally I’d like you to Just Make Good Content… because as you invest your resources into making content you will suffer competitively, leaving the rest of us to eat your lunch. It’s clear that the current model is only sustainable for the market leader and it’s soldiers. So keep paying those “White Hat SEO” people, because the more of your marketing budget you spend with them, the less you have to compete with me and the Black Hats. I’ll hope Google is keep busy “managing”those Black Hats, leaving the rest of us to succeed. And I don’t mind the White Hat’s getting rich, karma being what it is an all that.

If we follow this “make good content” path eventually the search engines will fail to deliver meaningful search results, either because of the excessive noise or because they enjoy such a monopoly they find market exploitation irresistably more rewarding. At that point the White Hat SEOs won’t know what to do anymore, and the creators/artists will refuse to work for the nickels offered. The web will become the cesspool Google says it already is. Clearly, as good as it is, Yahoo! won’t be around much longer. And once search isn’t TheAnswer for everyone using the Internet, maybe we’ll finally be able to break up the staid XHTML web we’ve been stuck with for 10 years, with some true innovation.

But that’s just my wish for the future. You could alternatively refuse to hire any SEO that claims to be “White Hat”, remain diligent on the copyright front until someone steps into the middle with sensible ideas for helping creators benefit from their unique contributions to society, and lobby your local representatives to do the same. Insist that your content provider assume liability for copyright infringement, in writing. And hire an SEO who claims to work for YOUR goals, instead of the search engines’ goals. Learn to manage your business risk like everyone else, instead of hopping on transient opportunities the Google/Black Hat way. Perhaps, with that balanced approach and with legions of small businesses finally accepting that they are incompetition with Google, our artists can find their feet in the new economy and continue to contribute to society. Hell, given enough time, maybe they’ll all find ways to participate in the web after all. That’d be great. The White Hat ex-SEOs can assume the general web contractor roles like nature intended, and we competitive webmasters can quietly go back to work.

Reminder: Set Your Clocks and Check Your SSL Certificates

Here in Seattle we follow Daylight Savings Time so today is the day to “fall back” by resetting the clocks 1 hour back. Because here have been so many “irregularities” in IT world regarding the calculation of Daylight Savings Time, it is also a great idea to quick-check your various servers and systems to verify they have the time “right”. The biggest cost of incorrect server time is not the absolute time issue (we often don’t care when a clock is off) bt the potential to make bigger mistakes by assuming time stamps are correct. Better to spend a few minutes making sure things are copacetic now, than get caught in a “gotcha” later because someone’s time stamp was actually off.

It is also a god time to re-evaluate your choice of SSL Certificates, for a few reasons. First, we humans tend to forget that SSL certificates expire, so we let them go until we get warnings that the SSL cert has expired. There’s no real god reason to work that way, if this simple reminder can get you to check your expiration date and execute any needed renewals now. We reset our clocks twice a year, so why not check your SSL certificate expiration dates twice a year? This is a particularly good time to do it, in advance of the shopping season. I am sure many of you will remember stories of merchants dealing with expired SSL certs last year during holiday crunch time. For homework, figure out when those annual renewals expire again this year ;-)

Another issue to consider is the compatibility of your particular SSL cert. I run several versions of most popular browsers routinely, and I am seeing more and more “invalid certificate” warnings these days, even from certificates bought through respectable vendors. Some advise that the difference in costs between the various SSL cert deals is purely a reflection of the dollar transaction insurance provided by the certificate vendor. A cert with $250,000 insurance does cost more than a cert with $100,000 insurance. But, there is also a cost associated with broad browser compatibility. Not all SSL certificate vendors provide certs that verify all browsers, and It seems certificate vendors may now be cutting corners by dropping support for older browsers.. I won’t name names here but you should check your certificate’s compatibility. If a user gets an invalid certificate message ater clicking “checkout now” you are likely to lose consumer confidence at best, if not a sale every time.
So Happy Daylight Savings Sunday: be sure to check your clocks and check your SSL certs.

Google has Priorities, just like my 8 year old

A few months ago Google was urged to add a “privacy” link to the Google home page. It was a big deal. We heard a selection of reasons why it was not possible, how it would be harmful, and why Google simply did not want to do it. In the end, with some drama about exactly how many words are on the Google Home Page Google finally did the deed and the privacy policy link appeared. The whole event was just like asking my 8 year old to do a chore. Same protestations, same drama, and same waste of more energy in protesting than actual doing.

But just as my 8 year old could go from “too tired to sweep the deck” to “ready to ride his bike 4 miles on order to get a new Lego Bionicle“, Google this week added a relative slew of new words (and a link) to the sacrosanct Google home page, front and center (with red highlights):

New! The G1 phone is on sale now. Learn more.

Where a 7 letter, single word link to the privacy policy caused an uproar that consumed the time of esteemed Google executives like Marissa Meyer, this 10 word, 36 letter sentence was apparently added with eager enthusiasm.

I don’t know which is more tragic: that Marissa Meyer will awake with a realization of just how much Google’s Senior management values her time, or that people still grant Google the benefit of the doubt on issues of ethics, fairness, and monopoly business practices. When it comes to money, Google knows how to execute. When it comes to anything else, well, we have to be careful because it might not be best for the users.

Google’s Brand Arrogance & Typo Domains Revisited

I can count on one hand the number of SEO consultants I have met who understand Google’s perspective on brands. That’s not a good sign for those of you hiring SEO consultants. And, given Google’s recent public statements about brands, it’s also not good for the majority of the SEO industry still trying to optimize web sites to rank for target keywords via “SEO techniques”.

Google loves brands because brands do all the heavy lifting when it comes to easy money on the web. If you haven’t figured it out yet, Google is a leverage play of massive proportions. Oh sure there are some good people at Google; hard-working innovators with good hearts and good intentions. But the business model is a scheme. As a business, Google seeks maximum profits with minimal effort, always keeping an eye on the long term vision : maximum profits with minimal effort, ad infinitum. Whenever possible, via leverage of other’s work.

Everything Google does has been justified as a means towards that end. Every web service, web app, widget, search feature and acquisition is strategic. Even the illustrious “making the Internet better” is part of the plan to enable more, easier commerce over the web, which leads to higher, less-costly revenues for Google (and its partners) without having to do the work. Everything is about leverage for money, even if the minutia (and the individuals working on implementing the minutia) don’t know it or can’t believe it.

And brands cost a fortune to create and maintain.

Google’s past behavior suggests it will never pay that cost for any brand other than it’s own. In fact, from what I have seen, Google hasn’t even invested much in its own brands (Picasso, UTube, FeedBurner, etc). Google doesn’t forsee an adequate return on the costs of building a brand. Oh sure Google values the Google brand (how could it not?) but if that brand were a pure brand (built not on substance but, well, marketing and branding), the Google Brand would never have been built. The people behind Google would never have justified the costs of building such a brand. On the contrary, they perfectly understand the value of exploiting brands on the web.

Think it through – if Google says the value is in brands, but Google doesn’t invest in building brands, and then Google tells brand builders that their brands are “the answer”, what else could it mean but Google is poised to cash out everyone’s branding efforts?

As with any costly adventure, brand building is a very inefficient process involving large advertising spends. Google hones in on the cash flow associated with such inefficiencies like yellow jackets chase high fructose corn syrup. The yellow jackets are driven by instinct – they can’t help themselves.

Advertising Age is reporting that Google’s Eric Schmidt called the Internet a “cesspool”, noting that brands are the answer to that problem. For the majority of the US population connected to modern sewer systems and unaware of the meaning of “cesspool”, it’s a big hole rich people dig in their back yards to hold what they flush down their toilets. Because they live on large parcels of land outside of town, they would rather place cesspools on their property than pay to connect to the city sewer pipes.

A typical cesspool lasts 20 years or so before either filling beyond capacity or failing to “absorb” any more “solid waste“. At that time most cesspool owners like Eric either pay a pump trunk to come and suck their solid waste out of the cesspool (carting it away to .. well I don’t know, actually, but certainly off their property) or they dig new ones as necessary and leave the old ones buried out of view. Anyway, Eric’s (Google’s) view of the Internet is that it is a big hole filled with liquid crap ‘n stuff (a cesspool). And at a meeting of magazine executives at Google’s campus, Eric Schmidt encouraged the brands to jump into the cesspool with him and help make it better.

It’s been obvious over the years how much Google benefits from brands, and it’s become painfully obvious over the past year how much Google relies on brands to measure relevance in SEO. Trademarks are brand protections. All of the trademark issues associated with Google, including AdSense and AdWords trademark exploits including arbitrage, trademark SEO efforts, keyword stuffing and typo squatting on trademark domains, and certain so-called “Quality Score” initiatives, demonstrate how Google makes tons of money off of brands. It makes great sense that, now that intellectual property protection efforts are picking up steam world wide, Google would try and “make friends” with brands. But in typical brand-stupid and Google-arrogant fashion, Eric Scmidt suggests that those brands jump into a cesspool with him.

In the process Eric Schmidt gets quoted saying things like “If you’re going to criticize us, criticize us correctly” and “We don’t actually want you to be successful“. I know these are probably taken out of context, but if they are accurate quotes then they demonstrate brand-stupidity and arrogance nonetheless. According to Google, Google is right, and everyone else needs to catch up. Yet, as most of us can plainly see, as brands go, Google is the bad guy. If Google is in denial on that issue, who then is right and who needs to “catch up”?

If you are in the SEO game, you need to understand how Google treats brands on the web, and how branding fits into Google’s value perspective. I’m not going to teach that here, because I make a living implementing my understanding of Google’s determination of relevance in search. Contact me if you know of a way we might work together. And if you work in search but not at Google, I suggest you think through the eventual outcome of Google further exploiting brand value on the web, with or without cooperation from the brand builders. There is opportunity in there, and we desperately need someone to pursue it.

The very worst thing we have on the Internet today is an arrogant Google unrestrained by competitive pressures. As our society suffers the current Google monopoly, our core productivity is threatened. The various avenues we have had for exchanging work for revenue are being eliminated by Google, as it degrades them in favor of more lucrative stored-value assets like established brands. But if it is merely aiming to cash out those brands, as it has demonstrated repeatedly with it’s AdWords/AdSense trademark practices and its evident lust for the revenues associated with trading on such marks, what will be left in the future?

Even Google’s new Chrome web browser threatens brands by eliminating the location bar and thus the domain name from the consumers toolbox. In our economic ecosystem, Google is a massive consumer, eating our producers and starving our decomposers. Life according to the modern Google is simply not sustainable.

Established brands are in a rare position. Google is becoming a brandivore, a carnivore feeding on brands. Now Google wants to cash in on your brand investment. It is starting to look like Google needs your cooperation to do that. Will you allow it? Or can you resist, and see what other value might be available in exchange? Or better yet, are their other options for earning honest value from your established brands, without feeding them to an insatiable Google middleman?

I suggest you take a look at domaining with a new perspective. Mont Blanc is one of the greatest brands in the world. Every visitor to MontBlank.com, MountBlanc.com, MontBlancPens.com, BuyMontBlancPens.com etc. is a targeted, interested consumer Mont Blanc has already reached through its considerable investment in branding. Why not serve those customers? Is it possible to develop (perhaps with the help of the expert SEOs and domainers) all of those potential traffic magnets, instead of trusting Google as a middle man to all consumer traffic?

If Google is suggesting that brands are the solution to Eric Schmidt’s cesspool problems, can you see opportunity in the very trademark domains you have been harboring to “protect” your brand? Is it wise to allow Google to eliminate type-in traffic for your brands, via elimination of domains as URLs and the imposition of Google search as the sole conduit for consumer traffic to your web site? Is Google really a trustworthy partner for your brand?

There’s plenty of opportunity for innovation in this Internet space, and the major brands are in a unique position to investigate without significant downside risk. I’m an Internet consultant, active in the domaining world and competitive search engine optimization for longer than Google has been alive. If you, like me, see potential for thinking more about this, drop me a note. I’m interested in taking things to the next level.

It seems EVERYONE is stuffing your local Flash storage…

Once in a while I like to remind everyone of some of the trust points that exist out there in Internet land, and this time I will underline the importance of paying attention because dang, it seems just about everyone is stuffing crap into your local Flash storage these days.

Everyone knows about cookies, those little locally-stored files that companies hide on your system so they can refer back to the hidden data later when you come back for another page, or when you visit a partner website. Cookies are what makes the stateless web stateful — without a cookie stored on your machine, a web site cannot relate two web page requests to each other. There would not be any “login” without cookies, because the cookie maintains your status as a logged in user. There can be no “remember me” without cookies, because the cookie is the “memory” storage facility. If you clear your cookies, you will find that websites you visit regularly no longer recognize you (until you fill out the login form again, at which time the website places a new cookie on your system).

Companies would not be able to track you easily either if there were no cookies, because by sharing cookie data companies can share usage data and ultimately track your usage of the Internet. And that’s why people like to clear their cookies. By clearing the cookies, you maintain some control over how you appear to those companies tracking your use of the Internet.

There are other ways to track, however, and one of those has become a major tool of companies these days. I am seeing just about everyone taking advantage of the local storage made available outside of the cookie system by the Flash player. Hiding tracking data in the Flash local storage is nothing new… this has been going on for years. However, lately it is amazing just how much stuff is being stuffed into that Flash storage.

If you want to see for yourself, you simply need to visit the Fash local settings control panels for your system and set your system to “always ask” for requests to utilize the local storage. You will also need to clear the existing permissions and data (which might be quite substantial if you didn’t already know about this “feature” of Flash). And of course be forewarned that clearing your local settings will change your browsing experience. Pandora will forget who you are, for example, as Pandora uses Flash to store your identity. Ditto for other websites, just as if they had been using cookies and you cleared your cookies. You can also access the settings manager with a right-click on any embedded flash object, such as a YouTube video. A right-click should offer a settings option.
It used to be my Flash local storage was stuffed by obvious Flash content… Flash content which desired to store variables or settings for use by that Flash application. Now, however, it seems web designers are placing tiny meaningless little Flash objects into web pages just to utilize the Flash local settings storage for hiding tracking data. Geez… Youtube is barely usable with “always ask” turned on… every few seconds it’s trying to store something locally. Is this really necessary?

Check it out for yourself… visit the Adobe page that displays your Flash local storage settings manager, clear the junk they’d already stored on your system, clear the list of “allowed websites”, and set your privacy to “always ask”. Then resume surfing and be amazed as your are contsantly interrupted by web site after web site seeking to store stuff on your system.

Beware that you’ll need to visit most of the tabs of the Flash local settings manager app to be sure you get all of it… not just the “Global Privacy Settings”. They have some redundancy in there and certainly didn’t make it easy to take control of your own system.

Reputation Management Domains : SEO Online Reputation Web sites

So many projects, so little time. The following domains are being offered for sale pre-development and pre-promotion. That means you can buy them now, buy them in a few weeks after they have been promoted for sale, or pay even more next year when they have active content and traffic.

FixMyReputation.com – FixMyReputation.com looks good for a front end lead gen site for the rapidly growing industry of Online Reputation Management. This is probably a Web 2.0 style foothold into the market… and a very profitable side sell of basic SEO services. Email john @ this domain *** update: offers > $900 only now.

ReputationLand.comReputationLand.com is a logical base for a next-generation SEO portal. Crosses over from PR to SEO and online marketing, which, as we all know, is the future of online marketing. Email john @ this domain. *** update: offers > $900 only now.

ReputationTips.comReputationTips.com Could be a defining play for a solo in the PR world, or an SEO consultant moving into the ORM space (online reputation management). Nice landing page for an eBook or even affiliate for a real book. Email john @ this domain.

ReputationCentral.com ReputationCentral.com lots of potential, but perhaps most value as a low-overhead entry via portal development (mash-up). The world is ripe for an ORM mashup right now… Email john @ this domain.

ReputationFactor.comReputationFactor.com I don’t like Bill O’Reilly, but I like his show’s name “O’Reilly Factor“. It has predisposed at least 2 generations of Americans to expect lively and entertaining coverage on Factor.com websites like this one. Most exciting might be a celebrity crossover play into the ORM space.. wow.. what a great idea. I bet celebs would be high margin customers for ORM, no? Email john @ this domain.

This is a great time to develop, as everyone knows. A down economy is an opportunity to build.

How to buy these domains: These are not SEO or affiliate domains… they are fresh unused domains. Express interest via email to john@ this domain. If you ask “how much?” you will not get a reply… the owner does not need to sell, so if you want them, make an offer.

Live Blogging T.R.A.F.F.I.C. East, New York

I think that’s an attractive title… we’ll see how it goes with the wifi. Note to conference organizers everywhere — wifi makes for more and better dealmaking! If we can get online from breakfast, in seminars, etc. we do more and better deals! (I tether from my cell if necesary, but then I need a cell signal!)

So this post iwll be updated as we go.. sitting now in Search Session listening to Jamie MacMillan…

Regarding businesses getting into paid search, Jamie says:

“What’s your strategy for managing your channel?”

Right on. What do you want to accomplish with your lead when it arrives? If you don’t know, and if you only look at return on ad spend, you’re not being efficient.

Update: Wow.. Jamie listed my blog as a recommended resource. Awesome… single malts for Jamie tonight.

Closing Jamie thoughts… on PPC and cost of ranking… “it’s getting more difficult to rank, and this train is not going to stop“. How true.

Next up, Senior SEO Manager of iCrossing, Richard Chavez, with “Spamming the Globe through Search” .. oops… it’s really Spanning the Globe.. my bad. It sure looked like “spamming” on the big screen, though.

“What Search Engines Consider”… this is looking like a standard “What is SEO” talk… clean site to allow crawling… duplicate content is a “very serious issue” with search engines, with “extreme ramifications”… touched on trust, and the positive effect of domain names on top level rankings.

Chavez says keywords is A#1 way to understand online consumer…

Compares “keyword consumer decision process” to the sales funnel process.. general interest, research…converson, racking broad keywords, to specific general phrases, with long tail stuff at the conversion. Looks like he’s combining everything into SEO… calling it search. Microsites vs. subdomains vs. subfolders.. Chavez says

Micro sites: traffic capture, users early in decision process and those out of the decision process (sounds like info sites)
Cons: may not get associatd with primary brand by Search Engines, shorter domain history so less history/relevance, typ. less content, “typ. does not attract inbound link growth to acieve authority”, or so says Chavez. Says authority sites have “hundreds upon thousands of pages supporting keyword content”.

Subdomains: Chavez says “considered part of the primary domain” so you leverage historical trust…also notes that as a weakness, subdomain treated as part of a sub-folder, there is a limit of 2 times to get ranked so subdomain counts as 1 for example. Not sure how much I agree with this topic….

Best Strategies for Multiple Domains: Capture traffic (e.g. misspellings), product related terms, Notes Google Chrome… address bar is search box, will se more typo traffic captured. “Maintain traffic from older domains”.. Chavez says hol don to bought/acquired old domains… notes “tremendous value”.

Chavez says 301 your typos to your main domain… what say you, Johnon.com SEO readers… is this “best practice”? Remember we’re talking typos here. I have some differnt opinions there… Chavez also says avoid mirrors/using DNS to duplicate/mirror sites. Notes desire to present additional value with additional domains, not just another of the same on a second domain.

Mutiple Domains for a Brand: Create unique experiences on unique domains, Chavez says start acquiring good quality links right away… directories are great way to start.

Now we see the iCrossing “proprietary keyword analysis tool”… okay so he’s a vendor. He’s showing a “position analysis report” using his tool… I’m sure the audience is now thinking ” I need a rank reporting tool”. I am reminded of Rand Fishkin’s talkat Domain Roundtable… “not that I’m selling you on my tools, but I want to use them in the talk” or something like that.

Final speaker of search session is Vaibhav Arya, CTO of Skenzo.Final speaker of search session is Vaibhav Arya, CTO of Skenzo. Arya says: Traffic is King. He says domains need content, and a “few snippets of content thrown in don’t really count” He also says that “sort of becomes suspect” and “could be construed as Black Hat SEO” and “could result in black listing your domains”. Huh. Really? Says typical domainer has 5-6,000 domains, and says putting a little ocntent on all domains will “definitely be identified some time in the future”, and he again referenced the Back Hat SEO idea. Seems to be selling idea that parking a domain that had a history… so called “expired domains”.. “you don’t get dropped off the index right away”… “there are ways you can retain the search engine rankings for these domains”. Says “withough development you can’t create search engine ranked pages”…

Ok I get it now. He’s making the case fo checking your parking system, to make sure your parking company is not using irames, redirects, etc. which can eliminate any rior historical search traffic. Again he says “possibly flagged as suspect” w/r to scraped content.

Arya says “the domain name is one of themost important factors for ranking in a search engine” …. I disagree there, but I agree this audience loves to hear that. Repeats it again… as a very large competitive advantage. I disagree… it’s a complex subject worthy of discussion, not broad stroke statements.
Says “keyword density” leads to you becoming “suspect” again… and “don’t do SEO without SEM”… so far what Arya is describing is WAY labor intensive for domainers. He suggests every page be “hand crafted” for example.

Okay now he lost me completely… he’s saying use PPC to buy traffic and use multivariate testing to optimize, and then take the optimize page and use it for organic SEO campaign. To my readership, when’s the last time you made a PPC optimized landing page that was also optimal for organic SEO?

Now to Q&A with the Audience:

On competing with large database-driven info sites… Chaves says “content is king” and suggests more wins. Ayres adds you need to develop the domain and then can beat content aggrators (again noting “eventually it gets identified” suggesting aggrageted content eventually gets penalized. Sorry I don’t buy that… Jamie adds that it depends on your competition and he says “get a good SEO person on board sooner rather than later”. Again, Jamie is correct.

Session ended ….

Loren Stocker… now this guy’s cool. Pipefitter, mechanical engineer… now saying “your work will define your life” and is talking about searching ourselvs inside to “find first the dream of our lives” and then “build the life of our dreams around that”. Calls it “Option Shock” .. how to pick what to do. Big Dreams are seductive and fun… he bought BigDreams.com for $12k and did nothing with it.

Stocker says we bought domains because “we were seduced by their potential”. He got that right, eh?

“Work on what you love, leverage the rest for more love, more life”
“what we do on this day matters. What we do in this life time matters”
Says he doesn’t sell domains because “these are my dreams.. they are worth so much”
“Life is like electric current.. “by holding our dreams we build potential” of dreams, but we need to “lower our resistance” to “let those dreams flow into our lives”. Look hrough your portfolio, “find a path” to work on thos ereams, and let the rest go.

he flips an old asian adage on it’s head. It was “Fnd the work that you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life”. For domainers, he says “Gather the domains you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life”

Check out DomTrader.org for trading domains… find the ones you love. He’s into wine, tickets, community-based stuff.

Canon 5DMkII debuts with 1080p pro video

Big news in digital photography land. Ever since the Matrix action sequences were filmed inside a ring of digital SLR cameras, with perspective images interpolated acording to the director’s vision, I’ve been excited about the future of DP. I studied digital signal processing for several years, including data compression and communicatons (the digital kind, not the journalism kind). That stuff is so amazing and powerful, we know that a wonderfully different future is coming. Someday.

Shooting a current pro-level Canon 1DMkIII is a remarkable experience, if for no other reason than the shear speed of the SLR mechanism. It seems downright wrong that the camera moves so many mechanical parts so fast to capture images. I know it’s an SLR, and I love the 10+ frames per second captures, but why does it need to do all that work? Why can’t it capture the images… well… digitally, the way it captures the light on a sensor? Like digital video… a digital shutter… but we all know that digital video cameras can’t do high speed action photography well. Not well enough (yet) to enable high-res, single frame action shots pulled from the video.

Now we are a major step closer with the new Canon 5DMkII. It is a 21Mpixel sensor and it shoots continuous captures, which it then downsamples to a 1080p video resolution standard. In low light. It’s magic for non-action photoraphy, especially on-location stuff. And through your existing (excellent, fast) Canon glass. Said to be available late November for $2700. Check out the camera and the images and video samples.

It doesn’t do fast action yet… imagine how disruptive a $2700 DSLR would be if it worked for pro sports? You could capture a video and select frames for use as high res digital photos. Talk about changing an industry! That should come fast in a larger, pro model like the 1D line (with a cost to match) and still be quite evolutionary. But this 5DMkII itself is a major advance for digital photography… if it is as described. I know what’s on my holiday wish list…

Following the excitement here.

New York Times trashes AOL Brand

I don’t think the New York Times ever publishes anything that isn’t intended to push some agenda. It seems to me every single headline and article has a mission. It’s not just news or information or entertainment, but rather some mission-based effort to make some point or present some perspective. So when I read today’s article trashing the AOL brand, I wondered what’s up between the Times company and AOL? Probably just helping out the Time-Warner folks, I suppose.

It was fun to read nonetheless. I always enjoyed hearing people make fun of AOL because it’s so easy and stress free. AOL just being AOL has been funny for years. No need to stretch the truth or spend any effort explaining the context – AOL “jokes” are just plain funny. But I thought those days were over because I rarely see any mention of AOL at all these days. But the Times sees a need to tarnish:

“it is clear that AOL’s brand faces significant challenges. The general scorn for the company was encapsulated by [sic] by Cosmé McMoon, who wrote ‘AOL = America’s Oldest Luddites.’ It sounds like there are as many people regularly imploring their aging parents to give up using AOL as there are people asking them not to drive in the dark.”

As always, there are people who take something cheap and easy and hope that someday, if they hold on long enough, it will be cool even if only because it is old. Apparently that has now happened with AOL:

“Several people had nostalgic associations with their e-mail addresses, which have been part of their lives for many years. And there were a few folks who seemed to like AOL for a sort of retro-chic.”

Retro-chic? Wow. Most of us know that “nothing expresses professionalism like an AOL email address“, but I bet few realize that @AOL.com is now retro-chic. The Times notes:

“When I get an email from an AOL address, I begin worrying before I open it that the question will be completely clueless,” said a person who works as a webmaster.

The Times attempts to sum up the trash-fest with this observation (emphasis added):

“And even AOL’s fans didn’t use the sort of words that people associate with growing brands like Apple and Google. You didn’t hear about innovation, quality or service. You didn’t even hear about a community, which once was AOL’s strength. Easy to use, another core part of AOL’s success did still echo from the AOL users. Ultimately, a brand is a promise of a consistent experience…Our little experiment in market research shows that AOL’s brand, at least among Bits [sic] readers, is hardly thriving. Even among satisfied users of the company’s services, the name evokes compromises and stasis, a tough position for a technology company.”

Ouch. Funny though, how the New York Times, with it’s hundred+ years of literary history, has so many typos in its published materials. I rarely have to write [sic] when I blog but I needed it twice for this little piece of trash… umm… I mean trashing, as in piece of AOL trashing. Well, you know what I mean.

References:

Since the New York Times has a policy of not linking to the web, I can’t link to their article here. But I can tell you how to find it. Simply go to Google.com and search for “New York Times”. When Google gives back a results page, ignore the main listings and look all the way to the right side of the page. You’ll see a few listings in a vertical column along the side edge. Look for the one that has URL “nytimes dot com” and click it. Once you get to that landing page, there is a “search” box in the upper left, below the masthead. Enter the following search term into that box: “so-thats-who-uses-aol” (you can cut and paste from here) The only result should be the actual article I mentioned here. (They’d make their website so much easier to use if they’d just stick to following web standards and link to things, right? Geesh.)

Hacking the Nike+ iPod sensor interface

Nicholas Carr says in “Apple declares war on sneaker hackers” that Apple is pushing for a patent for DRM on the clothing/device personal network. He’s noting a New Scientist report of Apple’s desire to restrict pairing of sensor devices to “authorized garments“. An example given in the application describes “sneaker hackers” removing sensors from iPod-linked Nike+ shoes and using them elsewhere. The Apple patent application seems to want to make sure that those Do-It-Yourself hackers who read MAKE Magazine and shop at OEM.com to build toys they can brag about on Slashdot can’t continue to “inappropriately” toy with the Nike+ system

A commenter suggests that it is Nike, not Apple, pushing for this, and that Nike simply wants to secure the shoe sales.

I went into a local running shoe store here in Adventureland Northwest and was told quite directly that Nike sneakers are not really running shoes, but fashion shoes. I was told to stick to “real” running shoes for running, to avoid problems and get better value in “the long run”.

I’d say Nike has much bigger problems than Slashdot/OEM.com hackers fooling around with their Nike+ shoe sensors.

Google’s Figured Out Better Ways to Know About You

Things are heating up world-wide when it comes to Google, privacy and competitiveness, so it’s no surprise that the rhetoric delivered to Google critics has gotten harsher. These days if you say things questioning Google someone will call you a conspiracy theorist, and someone will call you out on “negativity” or otherwise make a move to distract from the real issue. The One Big Real Issue is that Google is the most powerful commercial entity ever known to mankind. If you doubt that statement, I suggest you look at the available power Google has garnered and try and come up with any other entity (government or institutional) with more potential power. Please limit your discovery to the planet Earth and non-fiction. Feel free to go way back, but I don’t consider the Holy Roman Catholic Church to be a commercial entity in this context (yes I know, I know).

With power comes opportunity to exploit that power. That’s what I look at, and not because I think I can “fight” something like the whole world adopting the Internet and giving Google massive commercial power.. don’t be silly. I just find it interesting. I really, really do.

When Google announced yesterday that they were voluntarily reducing the length of time they keep non-anonymized data from 18 months to 9 months, calling it “Another step to protect user privacy“, I hopped on over for a quick read of the announcement. Sure enough, down around paragraph 5, line 4 on my screen, I got the information I sought. Google can reduce the length of time they keep the IP data because — are you ready — they figured out a way to still know enough of what they want to know, without saving the non-anonymized IP data:

After months of work our engineers developed methods for preserving more of the data’s utility while also anonymizing IP addresses sooner. We haven’t sorted out all of the implementation details, and we may not be able to use precisely the same methods for anonymizing as we do after 18 months, but we are committed to making it work.

That’s no suprise to me. Google has partnered with the biggest and most aggressive information management companies in the world (including NASA and Acxiom, for example) in the past. If anyone knows or can learn and master information pairing, that someone is Google (information pairing is the process of putting data sets together to figure stuff out that didn’t exist in either set. It has other names). Remember Google owns Doubleclick now.
Apparently Google has proven internally that it doesn’t need that raw log (IP) data as much as it used to think, because it has figured out good enough use-based data reduction techniques, and redefined the term anonymized along the way.

That IP data is not as valuable to them as they thought. It’s not worth keeping the raw data 18 months now, especially as the costs keep increasing (in the face of the EU privacy complaints, for example). They note that the new definition of “anonymized” they will use for the 9 month data is not as strong as the previous definition they use for “anonymized” data saved after 18 months. Yeah, I know. The Evil is in the Details. They continue to ask us for a lot of trust in those details.

Nothing amazing in this announcement, just not a simple “wow they gave in and granted us more privacy” like some are suggesting.

If you’re about to comment that I’m a conspiracy theorist, or trying desperately to make another Google good deed look evil, please have a cigarette or take a walk or something. This blog is not for you.

Breeding Bad Domain Names

TechCrunch has been evaluating 1000 companies for a special “TechCrunch50” list. They just published the 50 finalists, and I took a look at the domain names for these young companies. Wow. When I visit a web site and see a horrible or horribly-mismatched domain name, i wonder how that came to be. Now I know we actually grow them from scratch in incubators.

I figure this list is a gold mine for domainers offering portfolios in the domain name aftermarket. Virtually all of these companies are candidates for new domain names before it’s too late (or, in many cases, because it’s never too late to fix the problem).

I went through the first 20 or so, listed them here with the TechCrunch description (in italics), and offered my own stream of consciousness evaluation of the domain names.

Shrykwww.shryk.com Web-based financial software for children aimed at promoting financial literacy and good saving habits

This one should make some of the domainers shriek, which is a problem because this site is aimed at children. Children aren’t great at spelling “ie” words, plus they know and love a certain green troll named Shrek. There’s really little need to go further with this one… it needs to be replaced. Maybe something about money? Or savings? Or kids banking? I dunno. Even MySheckles.com would be better than this for bejeezus sake. Don’t you think? When I look at “shryk” I can’t stop myself from thinking “shrynk” for some reason.

Blah Girlswww.blahgirls.comBacked by Ashton Kutcher, Blah Girls is a gossip site that features a group of animated teenage girls who provide opinions on what’s going on in the world of entertainment

Nearly unpronounceable so expect confusion with word of mouth advertising. The Internet generation will confuse it with “bloggers” and “blog girls”, plus that double “g” is typo trouble.

Tweegeewww.tweegee.com A hub for tweens, Tweegee offers the youth market a suite of online tools for social interaction and organization

Tweegee… I find that to be a very odd name choice. “twee” is okay, because “tween” is a reference to 11 and 12 year olds who live between childhood and teendom (don’t bother checking – Warner Bros owns teendom.com, and one of you domainers owns tweendom.com). But “weegee” is not a vocabulary word for teens or the more likely tweenie participant. Wedgie certainly is… at least for the boys, but I can’t see a clever way to work that in without things getting, well, ugly.

To visualize the word of mouth issues with tweegee, just try and figure out a typo strategy for it. You can’t. Nothing seems to make sense (twigi, tweegy, etc) and that usually spells trouble for word of mouth advertising. Bottom line is this one either flies as a unique name or they need a better domain name.

Hangout Industrieswww.hangout.net Blends social networking with virtual worlds by creating a 3D, online environment where 16-24 year olds can chat and share media

The dot net bothers me, even though as an online community it fits the bill for dot net. “hangout” is not a very positive term, and seriously – how does one pair “hanging out” with “beng industrious”? We’re bordering on oxymoron territory with that pairing. I’m not sur ehow much 16-24 year olds have in common with each other. If a 24 year old is “hanging out” with a 16 year old, well… I’ll try and stick to the naming issues here. Better yet, I’ll leave things right there. If you’re holding a good domain name for this one, they might be interested.

DotSpotswww.dotspots.com Tracks the memes spreading across the web, aggregates the content associated with them, and gives everyone Wikipedia-like control over that content

Clever, unique, alliterative name that doesn’t offend. Unfortunately, it also doesn’t impress at all. It has virtualy no meaning. It’s like one of those 4 letter domains that seeem so rare and thus valuable yet have no apparent value to any human (qxzq.com?). If you spend any time actually think about this name, it irritates your brain like a bad tune you lock onto in the morning and can’t shake all day. Is it “dot SPOTS” or is it “DOT spots”? Maybe “DOTspots”. Andif you bother to say the dot com part (dotspotsdotcom) you start to feel silly.

Angstrowww.angstro.com Lets you set up a feed of news about your friends, instead of news by your friends

This one reminds me that many physics and Engineering majors dropped out of college to pursue web fortunes. To them, this is cool… Angstom is a unit of measure. The “A” in Angstom is not an A but another character with a circle above it (Å), but that’s forgivable. What is not forgivable, is that only physics/math/engineering types will associate Angstro with Jonas Ågstrom the physicist. The other 4 billion people on this planet will think of Angst, which is negative. When you “set up a feed of news about your friends” and wrap it in a term like angst, I get a vision of a teenager on his way to school packing grenades and automatic weapons under his black overcoat, on the way to making history.

LiveHitwww.livehit.com Tracks the music, videos, and entertainment sites people are clicking on right now

“Live Hit” might work as a domain name. Especially for a Youtube-like site showing fight videos. Maybe it will work for a music site… I’ll let you guess that ust like they did.

FairSoftwarewww.fairsoftware.net Creates virtual shares around software projects that gives each contributor a portion of any resulting revenues

FairSoftware.net sounds to me like software to manage a county fair. But when you read or hear that it is about helping coders get paid for their work, like the fair trade coffee concept, It makes sense. FAIR is a positive, upbeat idea and many programmers desperately need help in this department. Some how, I suspect FairTradeSoftware would be much better. I can’t imaging a domainer holding out for millions for that one, but if she does, there are plenty of alternatives that still carry the fair trade concept (permutatons with “code” and use of FT like in the farming trade, etc). I’d move towards things like JustCode (“justice”) and OpenProfits and such (JustProfits?). I’m not fond of the dot net here again, either.

Yammerwww.yammer.com A web application designed for businesses and organizations that asks its users to answer the question, “What are you working on?”

Let’s start with the fact that a business website should not be given a silly name like “yammer”. Let’s stop there, too.

Devunitywww.devunity.com A platform for writing code in a browser-based editor that doesn’t force developers to use a proprietary layer

Devunity is a tough one to call. Like “divinity” and “divine”, yet ithas that vu sound that reeks of “euro style”. You are practicaly urged to extend that vu- whenyou say it. In shops where I’ve hung out with coders, it would quicly become “divoooooonity” and that fun-ness might help them in their market. I wouldn’t bother pitching anyone over at Divunity.

OpenTraceopentrace.orgTraces items through the supply chain and adds them together to show the impact of products on the environment

Oh my another one I wouldn’t challenge. Unexpected but welcome event. Moving on…

Burtwww.byburt.com Collects user data to tailor individual advertising campaigns and target users more effectively

That hope was short lived – this is another terrible domain name. Ever play Qbert? ByBert (or is it ByBurt, or BuyBert, or BuyBurt?) is odd but not in a fun way. Maybe it’s pronounced “bee burt”? I’m not enjoying this one, so I’m getting out of here.

Adgregate Marketswww.adgregate.com Brings online stores to consumers through a display ad that is a fully transactional widget

Quick – guess the exit strategy for Adgregate.com. Yup.. it has nothing to do with an IPO or anything requiring strong consumer affinity. How could it with a name that is virtually unpronouncable, elitist in a World Scrabble Championship way, and reminiscent of a college soil mechanics class?

Adrocketwww.adrocket.com Contextual text-based advertising for email; assigns keywords to each address depending on known demographic and contextual data

No worries here.

OtherInBoxwww.otherinbox.com Provides an easy way to quarantine the spam and the messages you receive from online services

Again, no worries.

Tingztingz.net Offers a unified platform for delivering internet content across multiple devices including mobile phones and PCs

Um… okay, dot net again and somtingz bothering me about this one. I can’t place it, but I get funny odd feelings up my back when I see it and say it.

MIXTTwww.mixtt.com A group based social network/dating site that encourages real world interaction that’s more comfortable than the 1-on-1 format of most similar sites

Ouch. Seriously. This one is painful. No need to discuss it further, except what sort of strategy could you have for calling these guys and pitching another domain name? They already picked mixtt.com. That call could be a TON of work, and in the end, their happy with MIXTT?

Imindiwww.imindi.com Based on neuroscientific principles, Imindi’s Thought Engine tries to exceed human thought and help its users find new ideas, concepts, and questions on the Web

Imindi might work for these guys. The brief TechCrunch description sounds like it’s a fortune telling Ouija service, and of course we all know that in the 1950’s Americans thought everything central asian was mysterious. I’d check on emindy.com and eyemindy.com before it’s to late, though.

Popegowww.popego.com Surfaces the most meaningful information from within your social graph based on your interests and other factors

I really can’t comment on silly sounding names applied to web concepts I don’t understand.

PersonalRIAwww.personalria.com Allows users to shadow a professional investment advisor’s portfolio, automatically executing trades (which most brokerage sites cannot do)

Go ahead and try and convince me you didn’t stumble on that name and work through “personal IRA” issues as you did. I won’t buy it. And when you continued along reading the description and hit the “professional investment advisor” part, didn’t you backtrack once more to re-check if it was a typo? Sure you did. And so will everyone else.

Emerginvestwww.emerginvent.com Offers commentary and analysis on Emerging Markets and tools that provide you with information on how to diversify globally

I’m getting tired of this. Look, guys… it’s not that hard. YES the domain names you checked were not available for $8. But that’s no excuse for taking an $8 name that doesn’t help your business succeed on the web, is it? I mean, house prices went from $80k to $280k over 20 years time, but we still buy them instead of living in tents, don’t we? My grandpa’s shoes cost him a dollar in 1915. We don’t wrap our feet in paper today because we can’t buy shoes for a dollar, do we?

Nice try with emerginvent.com but it’s clumsy to read, clumsy to say, and it projects the wrong mental fuzzies for a service catering to emerging markets news consumers or investors. Visit a domain aftermarket site and spend a few hundred bucks on a domain name. Please.

ExchangePwww.exchangep.com Dubbed a “fantasy stock market,” ExhangeP’s service allows users to sign up for free and start investing in private companies

This one will certainly get attention. “Exchange what??” Yes, “P”, like the letter P. Now go back and look at how it reads…exchangep.com if you didn’t think “exchange epp” you’re probably a very unique individual.

Me-tricsme-trics.com Lets you see how mood, weight, and goals correlate with other metrics, including web services like Facebook or RescueTime

More pain for domainers. Me-trics.com. Why not m-etrics.com or met-rics.com or metr-ics.com? They would have been just as bad as m-e-t-r-i-c-s.com.

iCharts – www.icharts.net YouTube for embeddable, interactive charts

Think about it for one second (that’s all you should need). Sometimes i-whatever.com is a great domain name. Except when it’s an exact match for a very common term like “eye charts”, which you don’t control. And if you settle for a problematic name and then can still only get the dot net…. nuff said.


There’s more… I did NOT select these as the worst, I just started at the top of the list and worked my way down until I go so tired I couldn’t stand it any more. Am I off base? Is it not amazing how bad some of these are, despite the fact that some of these companies already have millions in funding and have been in the works for years in some cases?Here’s a hunch… most domainers offering portfolios have websites that look like c. 1997 template sites. It does not appear to me that domainers are willing to spend more than $25 on visual design, while Web 2.0 is all about rasing the visual designer to god-like status (often at a cost of rationality or functionality or even common sense). If design is so important to them, perhaps they simply can’t stomach buying a domain name from a domainer who exhibits no “taste”?Maybe.. just maybe, the first web 2.0 looking domainer will make a killing when his rounded-corner, mirro-reflective web site offers domains only marginally better than Mixtt.com and me-trics.com. Who will that be?

Google Chrome Bait ‘n Switch?

Update: Google has changed it’s Agreement to eliminate some of what is mentioned here, and since Google Chrome was released last week there have been at least two security vulnerabilities exposed. So if you downloaded Google Chrome last week and want to keep using it, be sure and re-download or otherwise upgrade to get the patches.

Yesterday I tried downloading Google Chrome and couldn’t…. the “Download” button just launched a Windows installer. I already had it installed, I wanted to download the file. Huh. I copied the “terms of use” to a file to look at it closely later. Obviously Google has made available a windows binary for the initial release, and since I heard “open source open sourceopen source” during the webinar, I can assume the source code is available somewhere. I’d find it later.

I twittered a comment about that and Danny Sullivan replied about how Open Source is a happy term and all good and such. Clearly he is also cautious of Google… he knows he must be, although like me I’m sure he’s cautiously optimistic. We don’t hate Google nor do we want them to prove themselves evil.

I replied to Danny that the term “open source” means nothing more than that the code is available to be seen. A company can sell proprietary “open source” software, but license it so it cannot be modified or adapted or re-used or distributed etc. The controls on use and distribution are in the license, not the availability of source code.

This morning my buddy Stefan sent me the gizmodo link that shows Google’s license for the Windows binary known as “Chrome”:

you might want to take a closer peek at the end user license agreement you didn’t pay any attention to when downloading and installing it. Because according to what you agreed to, Google owns everything you publish and create while using Chrome.

The offending text from the Google license includes:

By submitting, posting or displaying the content you give Google a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute any Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services…You confirm and warrant to Google that you have all the rights, power and authority necessary to grant the above license.

Wow (that’s what Stefan said, too). It seems Google is pulling a Bait ‘n Switch with Chrome.

Chrome” is the licensed distribution that Google has put behind that “download now” button, and which everyone agreed to yesterday. “Chromium” is an open-sourced version, which Google has placed into code.google.com.

Of course everyone will end up with Google Chrome installed, not Google Chromium. If you follow the links, Chromium is for developers who can “get involved” and “contribute” and compile their own binaries.

Bait and Switch is the practice of offering something attractive to draw an audience of consumers, to which you then sell an alternative. Bait and Switch doesn’t have to be a covert, deceptive process, although it usually is because the bait and switch practice can cause considerable ill will when boldly done.

Google spoke so much about “open source” yesterday. Google promotes “Google Chrome” and “Chromium” which I believe are confusingly similar to consumers. Google will of course benefit from the marketplace confusion as people simply refer to it as “the Google browser”. Based on the download process, Virtually everyone will get Chrome, the one that hands over the rights to all content. Who amongst you can compile the source code?

I’m impressed and annoyed at the same time, a sensation I am learning to associate with companies like Enron and Verizon and Comcast and Google.

I think I understand why the Big Guns were in yesterday’s webinar… Larry and Sergey. This project is HUGE for Google. Wow.

Note: End-user License Agreements like this (EULA’s) haven’t faired well under court scrutiny thus far, but also haven’t been tested much. They certainly influence things.

Note: When Mozilla got greedy and switched retro-actively from non-profit to for-profit, their “open source” was re-compiled and distributed by the SeaMonkey project, leaving out many of the more burdensome “features” that had been added in by the for-profit Mozillers. Despite easy availability of SeaMonkey (Firefox), hardly anyone uses it. We can expect the same “success” for a similarly benevolent compiling of Chromium. If anyone suggests that “it’s open source! You can change whatever you don’t like!” it’s sort of like the used car salesman saying “the boss won’t let me write it on company letterhead, but I can personally guarantee this car is a good car for you“. Caveat emptor, even if it is “free”.

Google Chrome and Your Privacy

Update: If you landed here for information on Google Chrome, you may want to read a more recent post “Google Chrome: Bait and Switch“.

Google released Google Chrome today, their new web browser. Why?

While you ponder that question, I note that the data clearing “Clear browsing data…” link in the Google Chrome Tools menu does not actually clear your browsing history. Your browsing history is stored in an SQLite database in the file “History”. Mine was located in Documents and settings, Local Settings, Application data, Google, Chrome, User data, History. There are also files Visited Links and Archived History, which I didn’t inspect. Clicking that “Clear browsing data…” link does not empty that database. Clicking on “History” and clicking “delete History” also does not clear that database.

Since Google has been spending so much energy assuring us that Chrome is a safe and benovolent contribution to the web, I thought I’d help out the cause and highlight this observation on privacy issues.

Personally I didn’t like that my Chrome installation automatically imported bookmarks and such from IE and/or Firefox, without asking me if that is what I wanted. I would have said no.

When I launched Chrome I was given a list of “recent” web links which were actually associated with a confidential project from many months ago (not so secret any more, if they are displayed like recommended links in the right side “ad column” of a Google-branded browser window). Oh sure it was only for me, and yes it was in my bookmark file, but that’s not the point. I don’t display my bookmark file on the sidebar of my open browser window. I suppose it was a good thing Google did, because it made me wonder “how did THAT get in there?

Chrome is a very interesting project, and I can see why Google built it and why they may have been eager to release it today. But as with all things Google, be careful. That’s not conspiracy thinking, and if anyone suggests it is, trust them even less.

By the way just delete that database file and Google will make a new (empty) one the next time you launch Chrome.

Update: in the comments, a few people noted that the bookmark import is an option. I checked and confirmed it is an option to turn off the import from IE, but it is turned on by default.

Update: When I uninstalled Google Chrome, it sent data to Google that may be reporting on my operating system (“crversion=0.2.149.27&os=5.1.2600” ). I’m not sure what crversion and os mean to Google in this context (Adobe uses crversion for “crash report version”).

Update: I notice that the history database that is not deleted when you tell Chrome to forget the history, is also not deleted when you uninstall Google Chrome.

Update: I wonder how I can actually download Chrome? The button at google.com/chrome says “download” but it actually launches an installer app. When I cancelled that process (since I already had Chrome installed), Firefox crashed. I just wanted to download Google Chrome, not install it again.

Update: Chrome Privacy Guard clears Google’s stored user ID everytime you use chrome. I haven’t looked at the source code.

I’m Going to Work for Google

I know this will come as a shock to many of you, but I’ve accepted a position working for Google effective September 1, 2008. After 5 years of full time independence as a Competitive Webmaster and SEO Consultant, and after building out hundreds of web sites for my own publishing network and a collection of trusted clients, I’ll be signing on with The Google. It has been tremendously exciting, fun, and beneficial to have functioned independently during this past 5 years of amazing change in Internet Land. But I can’t fool myself any longer. Google is winning, Google will win, and if I want to win, my best opportunities are with Google. Plain and simple.

What does this mean for my clients? Well, you really need to read all the way through to the end of this post. What does this mean for my trusted SEO friends, with whom I have entrusted secrets and who have trusted me with secrets? Again, please read all the way through. What does this mean for the good people at Google? Perhaps that is the most interesting aspect of my going to work for Google.

Effective September 1, Google will gain access to virtually all of my business intelligence. I am pretty sure the meetings are already set up to discuss the details of my site networks, especially the ones I have operated in very competitive markets. Once I am on board at Google, Google employees will have the rights to access just about everything interesting about my businesses.

I have already been informed, via the legal terms and paperwork I had to execute just to investigate the opportunity, that Google will be inspecting my domains, my traffic logs, and everything else webbish about my web sites. But Google will also get a list of my collaborating partners, my advertisers, and my contracts with those advertisers. Google will inspect the rates I charge advertisers to place ads in my networks, and Google will take the names, addresses, and contact information for those advertisers (presumably so they can direct sell to them).

Google wants to know the rates I charge for CPM ads and the rates I charge for CPA deals. They want to know the terms, and they also want to inspect the activity logs of my ad serving system, down to the times of day I run ads, what I charge to run ads in different slots and at different times, and what my customers pay for their preferred placements. I have to say that while we explored this opportunity to work together, Google seemed excessively interested in the inner details of my business costs and profits. They even made an effort to quantify the amount of time I spend managing my ad serving systems, how often my clients change their ads, and how much flexibility I offer my advertisers.

Google also wants me to install Google Analytics on my sites, presumably to make it easier for them to know everything about my business as if all of the above wasn’t enough.

Since my agreement with Google permits me to continue operating my web sites provided I agree to some restrictions (no pornography, stuff like that I don’t object to anyway), they also asked me to allow them to insert their AdWords advertisers into the bidding system for my direct ad placements. They say their advertisers will compete fairly and they aren’t looking for preferred placement. I actually didn’t care too much about that, because honestly when you think about how they are going to know everything about my business anyway, what difference could it make for me? Like I said, Google’s kicking ass and I would be foolish to think they would do anything less than aggressively consume every last ounce of business intelligence they can get from me and my web businesses. How else did they get to be the winners? How else could they continue to dominate?

The terms of my joining Google are still privileged, so this is probably all I can state right now about it. I don’t have a Ph.D. (I dropped out after completing everything but the dissertation research), and even though I rock at answering Fermi questions, I wasn’t able to solve one of the puzzles Google uses to screen for brilliance. Not everyone will be happy to see me sign on. Until I post this, even Matt Cutts doesn’t know I will be joining Google. That should be fun.

Perhaps the biggest shock to everyone will be just how little Google had to offer me to get me to take this position. I’m basically doing it for peanuts. Oh sure I’ll make some coin but mostly I’m doing it for the… well… actually I don’t know if I can identify any truly good reason for joining Google like this. I live in Seattle so I don’t get the Mountain View Celebrity Chef or the free charter bus service with wifi. But I won’t have to manage my own ad serving network any more, which was a minor inconvenience. And if I adopt Google Analytics, well, I get the pretty reports without having to load up ClickTracks. Hmm… well, anyway. Best not to think too much, eh?

Now about that “what does this mean for my clients” and “what does this mean for my SEO friends” I promised for the end. No worries, folks. I’m not taking a job with Google. I’m simply signing on to their “free” Google Ad Manager service. All of the above simply describes just how much business intelligence and inside data access Google would get about my web businesses if I sign up for their new “free” Google Ad Manager service offering. Actually, I’m not signing on. I’d have to be stupid to sign on and give them all of that access. Completely insane. Sorry if you feel I wasted your time with this post.

Update: It looks like I inspired at least one Googler to quit his job working for Google.

What is Google Hiding? 403 Forbidden: “your query looks similar to automated requests”

This week Google started blocking people from using Google’s search engine. If you try and use advanced queries, such as you might use when you are trying to understand why Google is not indexing certain pages, you get a block message and are prevented from using Google:

Google Error We’re sorry…but your query looks similar to automated requests from a computer virus or spyware application. To protect our users, we can’t process your request right now. We’ll restore your access as quickly as possible, so try again soon. In the meantime, if you suspect that your computer or network has been infected, you might want to run a virus checker or spyware remover to make sure that your systems are free of viruses and other spurious software. If you’re continually receiving this error, you may be able to resolve the problem by deleting your Google cookie and revisiting Google. For browser-specific instructions, please consult your browser’s online support center. If your entire network is affected, more information is available in the Google Web Search Help Center. We apologize for the inconvenience, and hope we’ll see you again on Google.

This happens to me every time I try and look past page 10 or so of a search result this week. If I clear the Google cookies, as suggested, nothing improves. This is very frustrating, and has caused at last two people I work with to start using Live.com for search and guess what.. they like it! One says it is easier to use than Google, and the other says her website is ranked in MSN and that is a good enough reason to use it for a while and besides, Live search is pretty good.

Here’s one reason you need to go deep into Google’s results: run a site query to see what Google has indexed from your site, and Google replies with “page 1 – 10 of about 10 million results”. But if you click on the tenth page, you don’t get the 101 or so results. Instead you get a page that says “page 21-29 of about 29 results” plus a notice that the other 9 million or so they originally reported are “substantially similar” to the 20 already displayed. So which is it Google.. you have indexed 10 million pages or just 29 pages indexed?

We find out by clicking deep into the results. Google says there is a 19th page of results, and offers a link to it. Click it, and see the truth: Google is only indexing 29 pages, and even though it may know of 9 million others (we can’t be sure), it isn’t displaying those to users for this query (contrary to what it says on the results page).

But we don’t find out this week. This week, if you click into those later pages that Google says exist and provides links to, you get a 403 Forbidden Error. Google’s explanation (above) sounds like it is trying to instill fear and doubt into the Internet.. you may have a virus or spyware… as if to say it’s not Google’s fault. What is Google hiding? If Google.com was one of my websites, I would be afraid that Google would penalize it for being junky, because my internal links don’t actually work, and are deceptive to users.

The Platform is Not the Message, Mark Cuban.

It seems every time I read what Mark Cuban writes, I disagree with him. Are we living in the same world? Obviously not. If he didn’t make headlines on Techmeme so much, I doubt I would ever read him these days. This time, in “The Platform is the Message“, billionaire HD movie developer Mark Cuban says people watch TV because they like to watch TV, and the appearance of content on the Internet instead of TV will not replace TV. That’s too broad a concept for me to disagree with, but he says specifics like this (his opening statement):

For years people have been saying that they will watch things in HD, that they would never ordinarily watch. In the 12 years I have been involved in Internet Video in one form or another, I have yet to have anyone ever tell me they will watch something just because its on the internet.

Um…. I work in technology, and especially the web, and I hear people all the time talking about watching Colbert and John Daly and yes, even the summer Olympics, only because they are on the web. Different worlds? Maybe…

Cuban then says:

There is a reason why 30pct of homes and quickly growing now have HDTVs…..they like to watch them. With a 73″ HDTV from Mitsubishi down to about $2200 bucks, its easy to see why and the pricing of all HDTVs continuing to fall, its a trend thats not going to end anytime soon.

Now again, I’m no billionaire, and I haven’t invested heavily in the Cult of HD like Cuban has, but I do have friends and neighbors and yes, they are increasingly buying large HDTV but not for the reasons Mark cites. They buy them for a number of other reasons. One is that there is a big marketing push that says if you don’t adopt the new HD stuff you won’t get TV anymore come spring (yes I know the truth, but my neighbors don’t).

Another was the huge and very deceptive (in my opinion) marketing effort last Christmas holiday season that pushed large screen, incompatible HD DVD systems out to the people through price incentives and misdirection (some companies have even paid out refunds).

Another reason is that there are new family-engaging video games like the Wii driving the purchase of large screen systems, and HD just seems like a wise bet when buying something you hope will last more than a year or two. Given the incredible complexity of the purchasing process for “TV” these days, many people simply “up” purchase, hoping that the premium model they bought will be the compatible one that last more than a few years. No one wants to get ripped off again with a nearly-outdated system.

Add another reason – the tax rebate did indeed prompt many large screen TV purchases. Who doesn’t welcome an excuse to indulge?

The HD industry has been horrible with their marketing messages. The HD DVD vs HD broadcast TV vs HD content marketing overlap is a miserable failure of massive proportions. Many people have bought so they can have big screen viewing of whatever they want to watch, not because they specifically want to watch the HD content Cuban and others provide. In this case I completely disagree with Cuban’s premise – the platform is not the message.

As one of those techy people that everyone else asks for advice before buying a new TV or screen, I base this only on my own experience living in this world I live in. Where does Cuban live?

Mark Cuban says:

People with big, beautiful TVs that they spent a lot of money on, want a reason to watch them. This could go down as the year the Olympics reinvigorated TV.

No, that’s not correct. People don’t need a reason to watch their big expensive TVs/ They want to enjoy watching them. Their reasons are clear – entertainment. They want to enjoy their TVs during the time they dedicate to “watching”, whether it is sports or movies or comedy or even news, but also video games, home videos, slide shows, interactive books, interactive teaching programs like my kids use for violin, and even video chat and Internet. We don’t want to have content restricted to specific devices, Mark. We want choices.

We don’t want hassles, Mark. We don’t want to have to watch this on that but play this on that other screen/device/whatever. If you don’t understand this, go witness the disappointment consumers experience when they discover they can’t play whatever on their new massive high-end TV. They don’t just acknowledge that the TV is for TV programs, and of course you can’t feed your whatever into the TV. They curse the HD industry, and comment about how since they spent thousands of dollars on the premium model, they expect it to work.

But maybe I live in a different world than Cuban. I threw programmed TV out of my house over 3 years ago, as did many of my friends and neighbors with younger kids. I don’t pay cable $150/month for hundreds of channels of crap that just might include some featured HD content. Perhaps I am not so easily programmed by the media or Mark Cuban.

Mark also says this:

if programmers understand that people will watch different programs on different platforms, we can stop playing the game of trying to replace TV.

Ummm… it’s not TV. When we say “TV” we don’t really mean “TV” like that. We mean the big screen thing in the living room we use to watch stuff. The box on the wall in the bedroom that we can turn on when we want to “be entertained”. TV. We sometimes even want to watch the Internet on TV, meaning we want to have a community experience with that common large screen viewing box, only not with some programmed talking head aligned with a network but with our choice of content. Yeah, we still call that “TV”. Sorry to confuse you. Please don’t tell media producers to stop improving the viewing experience. Instead, tell them to make it all work on my TV. Thanks.

Mark also says this:

Programmers will create content differently for every platform, from cellphone, even to movies. In the movie world, its pretty simple to see that big movies, with big special effects look great and sound great in theaters. Same with 3D. Thats an experience even a 73″ HDTV cant recreate fully

Now clearly with this statement I know we live in different worlds. No one I know has a 73 inch TV, because Costco doesn’t sell them yet. Also almost everyone I know has been woefully disappointed with todays “going to the movies” experience. It’s horrid. Lengthy pre-commercials, lousy sound (hint to technologists: louder is not better), ridiculous options for “refreshments”, and a generally undesirable norm of public behavior exhibited by those filling the seats.

Is it really “simple to see that big movies with big special effects look great and sound great in theaters“? Not in my world. It’s simple to see that the theater experience sucks. But maybe if I were a billionaire with my own HD movie production company I would have a 73 inch HD home theater, too. I’m not sure I would think that extended out into the real world as Cuban does, but hey, I’m not Mark Cuban.

Here’s an idea for Mark Cuban. He knows about the Internet, so he must know about the .TV top level domain. Consider people’s expectations for dot TV. They expect it to include programming they will want to watch on their big(ger) screens, whether that means the 24″ widescreen LCD on the desk or the bigger TV screen on the wall. Things like the lady who shows how to make a flaky pie crust (via video, on that dot-TV cooking station). I never knew you stopped kneading the dough when it was still that crumbly, but now I do! Or that win dot.TV show guy. I put that up on the big screen TV during dinner parties… he’s a hoot with the way he lowers the bar for wine tasting.

Maybe the emerging dot-TV thing will help Mark Cuban understand that the platform is NOT the message. The message is the message. We want to receive the message, enjoy the message, and sometimes (but not always) interact with the message, as we choose, when we want, and to share it with our friends and family.

Automated Rank Checking: Thanks for Helping, Google

I want to publicly thank Google for helping me show my corporate clients that they should not be running or trying to run automated rank checking tools.

Just about every client asks for a tool to automatically check position in Google. and most big companies insist on it. So that page at Google.com that clearly states “automated rank checking is illegal“,  is a great resource. It helps me help Google eliminate the automated queries.

Also that part about how running automated rank checking software carries negative consequences,like penalization or even banning in some cases, is awesomely helpful.

It’s really important that Google help us help them like this. The need for standardized reporting of the success of SEO efforts is very real. As an SEO and competitive webmaster consultant, I give my clients the best advice I can give, and I back it up with real world facts and reasonable explanations. I have been at this SEO Game for many, many years. I have experience.

I as one of the early webmasters punished by Google back in the late 1990’s  for running WebPosition, one of the first useful reporting tools. I think it was version 2. I used it from the corporate network, and the corporate network got banned from using Google.com. That’s right… all 1000+ employees got dead air when they tried to go to Google.com. It was a very good thing that not many corporate users knew about young Google at that time, or they would have been more upset than they were.

The email response I got from Google back then was brief, rude, and direct: you’re banned because you used “one of those automated tools”. He wouldn’t name the product, but he was happy to tell me there was little I could do to fix the problem unless I begged for forgiveness and promised not to ever do it again.

Lucky for me at that time I had a large enough IP block and I knew all about proxies. The boss was adamant about reporting on position. In fact, my career advancement depended on my being able to show a rather large group of busy scientists that we were achieving exposure for their work in search engines. If I didn’t show that, they would not collaborate.

Anyway, about that page at Google.com where I can send my corporate clients when they ask for a rank reporting tool… I seem to have misplaced the URL. Anyone have it handy?

I know about this one that meekly asserts you shouldn’t use checking tools:

Google’s Terms of Service do not allow the sending of automated queries of any sort to our system without express permission in advance from Google. Sending automated queries absorbs resources and includes using any software (such as WebPosition Gold™) to send automated queries to Google to determine how a website or webpage ranks in Google search results for various queries.

but the last time I sent a client to that page she sent me back a quote from the same guidelines:

Google prefers developing scalable and automated solutions to problems

Ha ha no, the irony was not lost on me. I didn’t enjoy that conversation so much.

Anyway, I seem to have misplaced the URL to the page that says “DON’T RUN AUTOMATED RANK CHECKERS OR WE’LL BAN YOUR ASS“, which is the tone I remember from that email I got from the Google engineer backin ’99 or whatever.

We have to remember, when a client asks for reporting or rank positions, they are seeking accountability. The only answer they will accept is something that impacts the bottom line, which in this case, is Google rank. Without risk, why not go for the reward?

Consequences of a Baaad Domain Name

Seth Godin has a new book coming. It’s called “Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us“. Seth is a popular guy and writes popular books. It should be popular. He’s also a marketing innovator, notorious for doing things differently in obvious ways (so every notices that he’s doing things differently). To pull that off, he sometimes has to beat everyone over the head with the fact that he’s doing things differently. But, he can also achieve that awareness through…marketing. And that’s what he’s doing now. To promote “Tribe: etc” he’s aiming for best-seller status, which we all know requires tons of pre-selling. Pre-sell enough books and you launch as a best seller, which, of course, helps your launch do better because…. you can claim you have a best seller. Get it?

Anyway, that’s not the point. The point is… Seth has decided to build an exclusive online community for those who appreciate innovative marketing ideas, and offer membership by invitation only, to … you guessed it… people who have pre-ordered (and paid for) his book. Clever tactic for a $15 book. He claims he’s not doing it to sell books, and I believe him (I believe he’s doing it to qualify for best-seller status, but that’s just my opinion). Seth says he’s doing it to ensure that his online community launches with the right people (people who were willing to spend $15 on his marketing book… whatever).

It is true that the $15 price tag is insignificant compared to the value of getting in early on a Seth Godin-driven online community, especially one that promises :

A tribe for marketers, for leaders, for those focused on building communities or creating products or spreading ideas…this online community will live on a site we’ve created that will feature blogs, forums, social networking, comments, photos, videos and a job board. And it’s by invitation only until October. Spots are limited and early members get privileges and bragging rights…Members get a password and the privilege of meeting each other, posting thoughts, connecting to big ideas or projects and more. The site will include excerpts from the book as well as a chance to contribute to a new jointly-authored ebook, with full credit and links to the contributors.

Wow. All for $15. Anyone who believes in the promise (and there are plenty of Squidoo afficionados who believe in Seth) will glady charge $15 bucks to the credit card, especially since you not only get the book (eventually) but also get an exclusive personal early invite to …. are you ready?….. triiibe.com. Ouch!

First, I have to apologize because I know you’re dizzy from looking at that and trying to figure out if it really is 3 i’s in a row (or is it 4?, or perhaps it’s an umlat or something?) Yes, folks, it is 3 consecutive lower case letter I’s.

What a horrible domain name.

Seth’s blog doesn’t mention the actual domain he’s going to use for his exclusive community of marketers, but this report did. When I checked the WHOIS today I saw Megan Casey (Seth’s point person on Squidoo?) as the registrant. By the way, triibes.com is already registered by someone else (sorry) and if you have epilectic tendencies please stop reading now because I note that triiiibes.com is still available! (yes, that’s 4 consecutive letter I’s). Someone should pick up that typo, no? You can own it for less than the price of a cheap marketing book (wink wink).

You can also note that someone has something going on at www.triiibes.ning.com, which I guess makes sense if you buy into the whole ning thing.

Bad domains are a curse, and this one is truly horrible. Maybe that’s why Seth didn’t mention it? Maybe he still has hope that his team will find something better before he has to use it? Whatever, the fact is, no matter how much I think Seth’s idea is good and his community would work, I won’t be joining even at a mere $15 price point. It’s nothing personal – like I said I expect him to succeed. I just can’t stomach the domain name, and I know it will fail.

Oh sure he can change it, and a bad domain name is a temporary condition because it becomes obvious to everyone real fast when the traffic gets lost on the way in during the first month. But this one is just painful. A marketing community on a domain that can’t be read, can’t be spoken, can’t be typed without double-checking, and all for a product that can be spoken (“tribe”) and everyone understands (“tribe – we want to be in one”). Please. I would be embarassed to sign up.

I was almost embarassed to join Squidoo when it started because of the silly name, but I recognized it as quirky in a friendly way. Plus the octopus cartoon thing helped people identify with it a ton. This time, however, no donuts to anyone on the team that voted for triiibe. As a user, based on that domain name alone, I am completely predisposed to believe it will fail. If I think of triiibe on Ning… slow, clumsy Ning…3rd parties monetizing my activity stream…. I will definitely pass. But my disgust (and this blog post) was completely prompted by that horrible domain name.

I so desperately want to hit my registar and pool etc. for a tribal tribe-like domain name that’s better and available for under $500 bucks or so to help Seth out, except… I have some other stuff I have to do right now. Wow. Talk about bad domain names. Geesh. Ewe. Bleh. I think I need a shower.

Pubcon 6 Concurrent Sessions: You Miss 83%

Pubcon this year has 6 concurrent sessions. Yes, 6. That means no matter how hard you try, you can only attend 16.7% of the sessions (on average). Is ths one of those “monetization” strategies that encourages companies to send teams instead of individuals?

I am reminded of attending Society for Neuroscience meetings where 50,000 people attended. And historical Comdex where 200,000 attended over several square miles of venue. It was crazy. Frustrating crazy.

Back in the early days of DEFCON I stood in the registration line for almost the entire first day, missing everything just to get in to see everything else. That was crazy, but worth it. Once there was a large refugee camp waiting for registration, almost as big as the crowd inside, someone pointed speakers our way, water bottles were passed around, and an impromptu RegLineCamp started amongst ourselves….the best was made of it.

With 6 concurrent sessions, and based on experience with past pubcons, I’m not hopeful of such innovation. Will there be tons of wallflowers, lots of doors opening and closing mid-presentation, and a whole lot of people just giving up hope of catching what matters most? And how about those inane questions coming from the transients…”I may have missed this in the beginning, so sorry if you already covered it, but can you tell me how I can SEO my 200 WordPress blogs?“.

Last year they had fancy-smancy scrolling electronic agendas outside each room, using laptop computers to drive 30+ inch LCD flat screens…. just showing the agenda. Totally not worth the expense from an atendee perspective (although it probably saved the organizers paperwork and sign-making).

Here’s an idea.. how about put that money (and those flatscreens) to use in the table area to show all concurrent sessions on the wall via a big matrix of screens, Hollywood Squares style? Simulcast the audio, so we can choose screen 1 or screen 2 on our iPods or whatever. Some of us will set up permanent residence at a “regular” table, you know, Jersey Diner style. I’ll even bring a little speaker to share audio with “my booth”, or if Brett needs the revenue, there can be coin-operated ones. We can sit still while the concurrent sessions concur around us…or whatever. I also won’t have to suffer the annoying tap-tap-tap of a “live blogger” sitting down next to me.

We’re all ADHD anyway, so why not cater to us? We’ll love ya for it, and I promise not to throw tomatoes at the lesser presenters.

Geek Alert: Gotta Love this Industry

Sometimes it’s the small things in life that matter. A few months ago my favorite hacker Dan Kaminsky discovered a fundamental flaw in the design of the Internet. it can be exploited by almost any hacker out there, and he made the effort to manage the politics of cooperation behind the scenes with major corporations and institutions, hoping to come up with a fix before word got out. Oh and it was not that easy, because any patch would by definition highlight the flaw. As Dan acknowledges, this flaw was known previously to be a weakness… but warnings were not given adequate respect. Probably the biggest news about the flaw was the concept of the top technical IT people in the world having to quickly work together, in a-political stealth mode, to come up with a fix. This was probably the largest scale problem the Internet has seen to date.

Even more geekly interesting is the way the “birthday paradox” rears it’s ugly head with the fix, meaning even if everyone executes the fix, we still have a problem that needs to be designed out of the system in the future. The Birthday Paradox is that wierd statistical fact that, in any room of 23 people, statistically speaking, it is likely that two people will have the same birthday. It always seems like a remarkable coincidence to our human minds that 2 people have the exact same birthday, but it just takes 23 people to make the odds better than chance. In this case, the fix for the DNS flaw Kaminsky highlighted relies on the random selection of a number. Since there is a finite pool of numbers to pick from, if a hacker also guesses and does it enough times at the same time, she ends up running 50/50 odds of landing on the correct number. Not too shabby, if the prize is control of the Internet.

Cool, geeky, and relevant stuff. But that’s not the “little thing” that made me spit my coffee across the Starbucks table this morning. It was the second comment posted to the IT news website where Dan Kaminsky’s work addressing this major Internet flaw was reported. A link to the Youtube video of Kaminsky explaining the ever-so-techy topic, in front of a small typically-geeky tech audience, which is visible to the camera. The commenter had this to add to the conversation:

Geek Alert: Dan Kaminsky on the DNS Bug of 2008…Would you bang the chick on the front row?

You gotta love this world we live, work, and play in. Video below… you can check out the chick for yourself.

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B0dHDD9fFM4]