Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Evolved blogging - paying to comment

Heh. I'd ask you to file this one under "crazy brainstorming ideas" but it is the third time I've been inspired to scribble down and evolve this idea. Over at Techcrunch there's a quick feature on Seriosity. What Seriosity allows you to do is attach a virtual e-payment to emails you send. Not real money. This is a virtual currency; the Serio. I agree with the psychology. People like to collect things. One of the reasons, I think, sites like LinkedIn do well is because people like to be seen to have connections. They collect connections. Attaching Serios to emails means your email will stand out. If you're collecting Serios then you're much more likely to open an email associated to 100 Serios (and keep the 100 Serios for doing so) than you are to open an email from a name you do not recognise (and earn nothing). Serios are there to make your emails stand out.

Arrington argues that the Serio is pointless and worthless unless you're allowed to cash out (as you could with beenz and other boom currencies). He may be right.

The debate reminded me on my past ramblings on Blog Comments 2.0 and CAPTCHA versus Cash. Each post discusses the idea whether people would be willing to pay a micro deposit in order to leave a comment on a blog. Real money. You'd invest something like 0.1p (which would be 0.05c currently) in order to comment. If the blogger approved your comment then you'd get this back. If not - then you'd loose it.

The idea is that if you're an average user you might invest up to, what, 10p (100 comments!) a day. Not much of a risk. Of course, you'd loose 0.1p now and then but could make it back by not approving unwelcome comments on your blog. Once you get over the initial technological and psychological hurdles this would not be too scary at all. Spammers, on the other hand, would risk £pounds as they dumped thousands of comments a day and would be unlikely to get anything back.

This real money solution depends on Google or someone else cracking micro-payments. However, there is an alternative.

Do I think a real money solution would work? Today, right now, when I think about this - nah. No. Never. People are unwilling to comment on a blog when there's a rel="nofollow" around. It seems that if people need an incentive (all be it a small and free one) in order to be persuaded to comment then the psychological barrier that paying to comment represents would be unscalable.

Maybe Seriosity and I can combine ideas. You use a virtual currency in order to leave blog comments. If your comment is approved you get the virtual token back. If your comment is rejected then the blogger keeps it. You can cash in your virtual currency for - gosh, extra hosting space for your blog, Google Checkout cash, a mention on a Seriosity/Digg hybrid newspaper which highlights blog posts or maybe you could use your comment currency in conjunction with a site like co.mments in order to ensure your contribution triggers an email alert.

Thoughts? I promise it's free to comment!

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Google hemorrhages money but woos new Chinese searchers

Google's stock lost a lot of value today. On Thursday last week Google was trading at about 480 per share. Google Finance currently reports 448. That's nearly a %10 drop.



Yahoo's shares have also dropped. As have Microsoft's.




This is not a search engine specific issue though. In America the stockmarkets (the New York Stock Exchange and the Nasdaq) have "corrected violently". Shares across the board have fallen over fears on a slowing (American) economy and investment in China.

I'm using the phrase "corrected violently" because I suspect many people would argue that share prices have been floating high recently. There's been a flurry of mergers and relief that oil prices have been coming back down. Today that reached a tipping point and many bankers decided that there was the danger of over-reaching themselves.

Comparing the search engines in China and the emerging Asian markets is interesting. Microsoft's Live Search really does not yet factor although Hotmail is significant. Google has a fight on their hands. It's Yahoo who tends to do well in Asia. Yahoo's Email is the market leader in many Asian and Australasian markets. We need to factor in email has, increasingly, web-based email systems are used to present a tempting search box to as many people as possible.

In some ways this means Yahoo is more sensitive to changes in Asian markets. However, when American investors begin to worry about how hard it is for American companies to reach China then, I suspect, it'll be Google's market price which suffers.

Notice how well Google is doing at wooing their Western fans with their Chinese office and staff, though? Just today Philipp has a cracking post on Who plays Who in the Google movie. Who plays Who? Hu plays Hu! Google's Chinese President is included - and without a good actor match. See anyone from Google UK there? No? Anyone from Google Europe? Nope. There's a method here. Actually, Google tends to do things which are fun and cool - let's not say "method", let's say "positive side-effect". The positive side-effect here is that Chinese abroad in the States and elsewhere in the West will go home and be more likely to be use Google than before. Students are a common target for marketers. Grab someone's loyalty when they're a student and someone else will have to work hard to shift that loyalty.

The Landwind Race

Once and a while affiliates who operate through organic search rather than just paid search are thrown a golden opportunity. They had one today. Brand Republic is reporting that Landwind is looking for an European agency. They've got £50,000,000 to spend.

Never heard of Landwind? They own the MG sports car brand these days. Landwind are one of the large Chinese car manufacturers. They're one of the many big Chinese companies which are eying up Europe. Landwind want to begin by capturing 1% of the car market in Europe (which would mean they need to sell about 15,000 cars).

I quickly checked to see what the European domain name oppertunties for Landwind are. The best ones are gone. I didn't investigate to see who owns what but it does look like www.landwind.co.uk is up for speculation.

A Google search today suggests there are about 1,600,000 results for the phrase [landwind]. There are no paid search ads.

We all know that that's going to change. This is the time where pages optimised for [landwind] can begin to claw that all important "conceptual market share" by being the first to talk about Landwind and cars on the same page. Right now this blog post has more history in Google for being about "Landwind cars" than most other English language pages. If you're a car/automotive affiliate then this is a golden chance for you.

There are other terms to consider; X-Pedition is the name of their SUV and they've an MPV called Fashion. [Fashion] is a bit generic but would couple well with some choice "car keywords". X-Pedition is almost giving itself to you.

Of course, the creative agencies pitching for Landwind's £50,000,000 would do well the address this (but they won't). Unfortunately, all too often Search Marketing is thought about late on. A good creative digital agency would be including "launch speed" in their pitch - just how quickly they can get their first European Landwind sites live. These don't have to be cracking sites. These just have to be sites that can begin to fight for Search Market Share for Landwind.

There's are a few learnings to be had here:

  • Always think Search
  • It is best to be prepared before your news hits the wires
  • It pays to be fast - and if you are an affiliate, that's your advantage over the multi-national companies

Monday, February 26, 2007

Designing your RSS for Mobile Devices

I travel a lot. I travel an awful lot. In the UK we have offices in Edinburgh, London and Manchester and I've staff in each one. Around the world we have offices as far a way as New York, Russia and Korea. Needless to say - we've clients in equally as far flung locations!

When I travel I need my BlackBerry. It keeps in touch with email. There's a handy app for Google Maps (though a paper map is always quickly). There's also Google Reader Mobile. Many ARHG readers will know what it's like to aggregate (easily) over a hundred RSS posts a day. If I'm away for several days then there can be a mountain of posts to sort though if I don't check the mobile reader.

First off the mobile reader, which you can check via your normal browser, strips away everything apart from the first five RSS headings. If you want, at a click, you can mark these all as read. When you do the reader fetches the next five. It fetches them quickly. Posts are marked as read as you read them unless you click to leave them unread. You read from one post to another.

A really clever bit is that you can select those RSS posts which only offer a summary, click through to the full post but still stay (somewhat) inside the reader. I can read the likes of ZDNet (who don't give away much of their post in the RSS nodes) without having to persuade the BlackBerry's browser to download the normal HTML page.

I highly recommend Google Reader's mobile version.

Could it be better? Sure. Of course! I subscribe to both The Register and Brand Republic because each site is cracking for news. Each site, however, is a very busy RSS feed and when I'm trying to review my RSS at the end of a long day on the BlackBerry I wish there was a way to mark all the posts from any given publisher as read.

There are some RSS feeds that I can't cope with on the mobile reader though. One of my regular reads is Andy Beard. I read his blog because it mixes marketing with technology in a way that many others do not and Andy's not afraid to say what he thinks. So, I like Andy's blog. I've taken him off my Google Reader though. Why? His posts aren't kind to slow and small screen devices.

Here's what a footer looks like from an Andy Beard post on the web.


Here's what a footer looks like from an RSS point of view.


It's much longer! When you're on the mobile device you really don't want to download a picture nor is a feedflare for facebook or trackbacking. The related links are nice, subtle and useful on the web read but clutter on the mobile device.

I'm just using Andy Beard as an example here. There are many other blogs with a similar approach (Search Engine Land has a largefeedflare ) and until Google Reader offers me a "for mobile / not for mobile" switch I'm left to subscribe to mobile safe (safer) feeds and check the others by hand when I'm at my laptop or PC.

As it happens, I expect we'll see more mobile enhancements to Google Reader and other RSS aggregators.

... roll on WiMax, huh?

Why do I support nofollow?

Since a meeting cancelled itself on me this morning I thought I'd fire off a cheeky blog post and comment on my support for nofollow.

It's easy for me to whisk through reasons why I support nofollow. Let's begin as a webmaster:

  • I can link to sites I want to talk about without boosting their profile in search engines.
  • I can code my forums to automatically add nofollow to any outbound links. I don't need to worry about users linking to bad neighbourhoods.
  • I can code my comment section so that old comments automatically gain nofollow. I don't need to check back through years of old comments to see if any domains have changed owners/content and become bad neighbourhoods.
  • I can make it clear on my site that I use nofollow and this will only ever deter spammers, not encourage them.
  • I can add funky and fun widgets, badges, or memes to my site and use nofollow to make sure I'm still "Link Safe".
  • I can use nofollow as much or as little as I like and it does not directly impact my site.
  • I can use nofollow to safely text link advertise on sites (sponsorships, partnerships, etc) without being mistaken for a link buyer.
  • I can use nofollow and safely link to partners without being mistaken for a link seller.

Let's continue my support of nofollow as a search engine optimiser:
  • I can educate my clients about bad neighbourhoods, the dangers of linking to them and present the nofollow as a practical and effective technical solution alongside best practise link training.
  • I can find safe ways to protect my client's rankings when they may contracted or obliged to promote/link to a partner/advertiser when those partners/advertisers are engaged in unethical search engine optimisation. This solution tends to apply when sites must display a logo or a partner link as those contracts do not tend to mention neither nofollow nor search engines. Deals struck explicitly for the "link juice" tend not to be solved this way; instead I have to advise the client as to the risks in the deal and advise them to re-negotiate and stop link selling as soon as possible.
  • I'm against link buying and the option of "nofollow" makes it easier for search engines to address the paid link problem.
  • Nofollow is an elegant technical solution which is easily applied to large Content Management Systems.
  • Nofollow on cooperate blogs helps encourage comments from users and customers with a valid need to comment and not just from people looking for some well placed link juice.
  • Nofollow helps enforce the importance of a "link audit / external link audit". In some ways nofollow creates additional job opportunities for the SEM industry.
  • Nofollow is precise. Nofollow is applied to a small unit on a page, a single anchor element, rather than the entire page.
  • Nofollow links still show up in your analysis of which sites link to you (Yahoo Site Explorer, Google's Webmaster Console) and so you can still analyse your "social media cyberscape" whereas JavaScript (etc) solutions would prevent this.
  • The use of nofollow is a Quality Signal.

Why should you support nofollow:
  • The more people and sites who embrace it the more effective it becomes.
  • Help avoid the "blogosphere phantom economy" where highly ranked blogs receive a disproportionate number of comments/interaction as other bloggers scramble for "link juice".
  • Be ethical - work with the search engines rather than against them.
  • Be proactive - help combat search spam and comment spam.


I launched the "I support nofollow" campaign on January the 27th, 2007. To date the campaign as attracted one named supporter - me. Ha-ha. On well.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Banning ShoeMoney

Ah-ah. Allow me to make myself unpopular again (I must follow on why I support nofollow) and let me say that MyBlogLog did the right thing in banning ShoeMoney.

If you don't know the story then here's the five second re-cap. An internet markerter, moniker of ShoeMoney, posted the details of a MyBlogLog impersonation exploit and listed details of who to impersonate. MyBlogLog banned him for that added extra. The internet cliché of other SEO and internet marketers bloggers responded with an outcry and began a boycott of MyBlogLog.

I don't think it is wrong to post about exploits - though emailing the details to the effected service is the responsible thing to do. I do think posting the details of who to attack/effect/impersonate through the exploit is wrong.

Let's scale this up to the extreme. I find doing that sometimes helps to bring clarity. I know how credit card fraud works. It's an exploit of the system not of the technology. You, of course, need the details of the person you need to impersonate (one of the reasons I have a shredder at home), the credit card numbers and a list of internet sites that'll deliver to addresses that don't match the credit card billing details. There. It's not wrong to run through that scenario. If I list credit card numbers for "Mr John Smith of 123 Example Street, Exampletown, UK" I am now in the wrong. Even if Mr John Smith's own information security is dreadful and you could easily find out his details yourself - I would still be wrong for posting them here.

We can scale this back down again. Hotmail had a vulnerability which let people log in to any account if they had the URL unique to that account. Posting about that vulnerability isn't wrong. If I posted your Hotmail URL while the exploit was open and made it easily possible for people to log into your Hotmail account - I am wrong.

ShoeMoney shouldn't have posted the MyBlogLog unique IDs for those internet celebrities. I'm sure one of the reasons he did so was as proof of concept. Another reason was also to "ping" these people by mentioning their names and maximize the coverage of his story. Yet another reason was to pick famous names to help sensationalise the story.

It's worth pointing out that MyBlogLog have said they were wrong to keep ShoeMoney banned after they had fixed the exploit. ShoeMoney is no longer banned.

When you have a good story then there is that urge to sensationalise things. Reporters have guidelines and editors. Bloggers only have their sense of responsbility.

If you have a popular blog - and ShoeMoney's blog is popular because it's good - then , in my opinion, you have the extra responsibility that comes with that. I don't feel that ShoeMoney (who I don't know from Adam) was malicious at all. I just think he got this one wrong.

The reaction of the blogosphere is interesting too. It's easier to poke sticks at MyBlogLog now they're part of Yahoo. Even if you're an influential blogger you're unlikely to get any special attention from Yahoo. Why woo them? However, you could enjoy links, support and promotion from ShoeMoney (who's certainly influential) if you side with him. The more dramatic your support for ShoeMoney then the more likely you are to attract ShoeMoney's thanks and to be cited in third party posts (like this one) about the drama. Once again we can see how bloggers benefit from sensationalising things.

I think rather than rounding on popular targets (any of the main search engines) and jockeying to make contacts responsible bloggers should encourage their peers to be responsible. I'm trying to do that here.

Guys; be responsible.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Gmail looses sitelinks

Ten days ago I posted about gmail's odd sitelinks. Google had awarded mail.google.com sitelinks for the search [gmail]. It looked as if it had gone wrong - rather than four useful links we got four links to the same page in different languages.

I noticed today that Gmail has lost its sitelinks.

I've heard some SEM-talkers suggests that sitelinks are purely manual. They're not. They can't be. I'm sure if you looked up a Google Dictionary you'd discover that word manual is defined as evil and wrong. It looks as if there's been some scaling back on the sitelink data refresh due to unsatisfactory results, though.

Virgin versus Sky - fight

Here in the UK the two biggest cable channels merged. NTL and Telewest became, briefly, NTL:Telewest. Add on Virgin Mobile (where Virgin is the franchise you associated with Richard Branson) and the company becomes Virgin Media.

Is there anyone who can compete against such an empire? Yes. Easily. Paid TV is dominated by BSkyB (typically known as Sky) - a satellite based network with huge subscription models and some of the most popular channels. Sky One is the channel which typically picks up the biggest and "best" from America, for example. Sky News goes head to head with the BBC's News 24.

When it looked likely that Virgin Media might try and take control of ITV it was Sky who moved to block them.

Virgin Media runs Sky One, Sky News, and other Sky owned channels on their cable network. In fact, one of the main reasons for signing up to Virgin Media TV is to watch Sky One.

Sky's reacting to the growing threat from Virgin Media and reports suggest things have come to a head. Sky hiked the prices of these channels - the amount Virgin Media have to pay to display them. Virgin Media's not happy and isn't playing ball.

Arif Durrani at mad.co.uk has a great quote.

"Sky's behaviour is a heavy handed and anti-competitive response to that challenge and consumer choice has been reduced as a result. I'm pleased, however, that at a time when they're taking content away, Virgin Media is giving people more."
- Steve Burch, CEO of Virgin Media

Virgin Media's launch had seemed to be doing well. They're running a very aggressive TV campaign with Uma Thurman. Let's take a peak at their Alexa (last week they ranked up there as a top Mover and Shaker).


The Virgin Media site itself is a nice big portal. I'm sure it's doing well with all that traffic. However, I'd like to be able to include a YouTube of the Uma Thurman adverts - but they don't seem to be online. Whoops.

(p.s. Google's lawyers will be displeased with my use of YouTube as a verb)

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Bog Search References

File this in the "new for me" folder. I spend so much time charging around London that I can sometimes miss these little tweaks. Our internal newsletter is at hand to scoop up all the search engine news that I miss through my travels and I particularly liked this one.

Google's encouraging us to examine the backlinks for blog posts - references to the blog. Of course, this is exactly the original Google model where links are treated as academic citations.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

eWorld

I'm at eWorld on the 20th/today to present on New Search Technologies.

I love this topic! So much to talk about. In fact, with only 30 minutes for the presentation there is too much to talk about.

One of the slides I've had to cut is a quick discussion on "new search methodologies". At Search Engine Strategies Chris Sherman has a good slide which bullet pointed meta tags as a failure and then led on to the current trend of tagging. I love the juxtaposition. The relationship between meta tags and tagging is very close.

Is tagging a failure? That's a great debate (more than a bullet point could allow in the time Chris had) Certainly the meta keywords are not worth much these days than the "easy era" (but how often do you see a site ranking well which has inaccurate meta keywords). The meta description is, in my opinion, vital. This is the tag which has the best chance of enticing searchers to click through into your site. One Google patent application would lead us to conclude that this click through rate is very important. If this blog had a low click through rate for the search [Andrew Girdwood] then I could see why Google and the others would begin to drop my rankings for that term.

Then there's the robots meta. Right now the assumption is that search engines are allowed to index and spider by default. Could that change? Look at Google's promotions in Belgium. Imagine helping create a million dollar CMS, omitting the robots meta only then to discover you needed to say "index,follow". That would be an expensive oops.

Search engines have invented two new meta in recent years too.

We have the "noopd" meta tag. That's a glorious tag. I love it. Live Search/MSN had it first. Kudos, much kudos, to them.

Then there's the sitemap XML verification meta tag which Google brought in. That's very helpful where you can't upload .html files (like on Blogger, for example).

What next? Could we see more meta tags? I think so. I think we'll see a resurgence of location and location encoding for sites. It's an appropriate way for webmasters to help search engines geo-target organic results.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Filters, Facts and Fiction

One of my pet hates are SEO who present theories as facts. At SES this week one SEO announced to a room full of paying people that Google's new anti-Googlebomb filter tweak was nothing more than a cynical hoax. That is his opinion. My opinion is that he is wrong.

Let's try this list.

  • The Sandbox
    • Strong theory - Google alluded to this
  • The -30 Filter
    • Theory
  • Googlebombing Filter
    • Fact - Unless Google are liars
  • Google Bowling
    • Theory
  • Duplicate Content Filter
    • Fact
  • Supplemental Results Filter
    • Fact
  • Domain Name Age Filter
    • Theory
  • Omitted Results Filter
    • Fact
  • TrustRank Filter
    • Theory
  • Links Page Filter
    • Theory
  • Reciprocal Links Filter
    • Theory
  • Co-citation Linking Filter
    • Strong theory - alluded to by Google
  • Too Many Links Filter
    • Theory
  • Too Many Pages At Once Filter
    • Theory
  • Broken Link Filter
    • Theory
  • Page Load Time Filter
    • Theory
  • Over Optimisation Filter
    • Theory
  • Keyword Stuffing Filter
    • Theory
  • Meta Stuffing Filter
    • Theory
  • Automated Google Query Filter
    • Theory
  • IP Class Filter
    • Theory
  • Google Toolbar Filter
    • Theory
  • Click Through in SERPS Filter
    • Theory
  • Traffic Filter
    • Theory
  • Google -950 Filter
    • Theory
Do you know what? I think it gets worse. Over 75% of these "filters" are just a theory. 75%! Do you think I'm going to be the same amount of trouble as Jason Calacanis got himself into when he suggested that 90% of SEO was pushed by snake oils sales people.

Hat tip to Joe Whyte's list of filters. Frankly, it's hard to keep up with what the SEO forums are raving about on any given day.

Yes, but what about Blogger?

I love Google Reader. I got excited when Google announced you could now view the number of subscribers your feed had on Google Reader or Google IG.

It works via the http header. This is geeky. If we worked out what percentage of bloggers didn't have a scooby as to what an http header was then we'd be looking at a large number.

I use Blogger for this blog. I will. It's a personal project. As a Blogger user I cannot use this new Google Reader feature. Blogger doesn't let me look at the http headers.

As a Blogger user I can't use the Webmaster Console either as I can't upload my verification file to BlogSpot. I can't view my backlinks.

The Google Tribes need to coordinate more. They do. Is the rest of Google trying to push me out of Blogger?

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Comments coming - despite Google's wi-fi woes

Over at Google's Webmaster Central Blog Vanessa Fox has posted to let us know that comments are coming to that blog. The webmaster blog will be among the first Google blogs to tackle the thorny issue of comments. We're also told that the Webmaster Console is coming out of the beta.

I'm not surprised that the Webmaster Console made it. I am surprised that comments are coming so soon.

I recall a Googler describing the (then) Sitemap XML as a project which would either succeed hugely or fail hugely. It's succeeded hugely. Although some SEOers dislike and distrust it (they dislike anything which empowers the average webmaster in the ways of SEO) the rest of the internet has really embraced it.

I'm intrigued as to how the Google comments will work. At the tail end of last year I wrote about comments 2.0 in the hope that Google would find something new. Have they? Already? It seems so soon. Perhaps Google have simply hired the man power needed to approve or ignore all the comments they'll get.

Oh. My favourite thing about Vanessa's post? That she was two meters away from me inside the Speakers' room at SES London when she (coffee in hand) hit the Publish button.

At SES London we found this news out a few minutes before the rest of the world as Matt Cutts announced it during his keynote interview with Chris. He scouted the room for Vanessa first. "It's not posted!" she shouted, "There's no wifi here!". I feel her pain. There is the ghost of wifi here. You can sometimes see the SES network blipping onto your radar, sometimes get connected (if you know the password) but rarely have enough juice to establish even an HTTP connection before the network fails again. Ah! Conferences!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Gmail's odd sitelinks

The algorithmic choices behind Google's sitelinks confuse many people. What? How? Or even where?

After the weekend's update I think Gmail has some of the most odd sitelinks. This is the only multilingual collection of sitelinks that I can find (which doesn't mean they are unique).

Those "About" links don't appear together on any one page. You have to wonder how popular any of the about pages are in terms of inbound links.

Are multilingual sitelinks "correct". I suspect not. Google doesn't normally mashup language results.

Search Engine Strategies - London 2007

This isn't a live update from the first day of Search Engines Strategies - London 2007 because we struggled with the wifi and because I'm no good at grabbing the precious RJ45 cables in the Speakers' Room.

The photo shows the Speakers' Room. That's Rand Fishkin on the left. The woman with the lovely red hair asked that I didn't spell her name wrong. No spelling errors here.

I had high hopes for SES London this year after being disappointed with it last year. They have new owners (Apax) and a new venue ExCel. ExCel has character but it's miles (and miles (and miles)) from everywhere else in London.

The Expo is very small. Google doesn't have a booth. Yahoo doesn't have a booth. There isn't a single gambling site looking for affiliates. MSN is a big sponsor. Unlike last year, however, the Expo is in a smaller area (much) and so seems much busier. This is an improvement of sorts. I would find it hard to advise any SEM agency to take a booth to SES London at the current rate - however, if you're pitching web analytics or technology that a SEM might use then you might have an audience.

The presentations and forums are better; much fuller than I recall from last year but that's perhaps due to different topics and verticals. I heard some people grumble that SES is suffering from having the same speakers again and again - but, hey, there's a reason why they invite the same people back.

The highlight for me this year (so far) is the same as it was last year. I think Chris Sherman is a great moderator. He manages to direct the forum with a gentle touch, keep things timely, at the right pace, keep the conversation on topic but still diverse.

Its very easy to waffle or forget the initial question when you're on a panel. That shows. I do worry that sometimes people pick up the wrong end of the "advice stick" at SES. You have to remember that experts are giving their opinion based on a few seconds of briefing and often without a look at the site in question!

I'm full of opinions and so am likely to disagree with points. For example, I don't think a sitemap XML will allow Google to track people around your site. Last year that's what nearly a whole panel said. This year a lot of people still distrust the service.

It was really great to see Rand Fishkin and Google's Vanessa Fox at the show. New faces and new blood for London. I thought Rand did very well on the Organic Search panel as he didn't waffle and kept his advise consistent. Just spotting Vanessa in the audience will (and did) cause a speaker to change direction in mid speech and end up recommending something they had began to attack!

I have to be in the centre of London tomorrow but hope to have time to catch Matt Cutts' keynote address.

Monday, February 12, 2007

The Google, Ask and Yahoo Love Triangle


Over at Search Engine Land Danny's noticed that Ask is bidding on Yahoo on Google.

This isn't the first time this has happened. Way back in October 2006 I noticed the very same thing.

Something has changed, though. Back in 2006 the tracking for Ask's bid was routed via Atlas. Today it is going via http://pixel1366.everesttech.net/. That's an Efficient Frontier tracking redirect.

The love triangle continues - but some of the supporting friends have been changed.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

MyBlogLog updates homepage

MyBlogLog have updated their homepage. I like the look. The static sample of MyBlogLog output has been removed and the homepage now looks to be much more dynamic. I'm glad they kept the new members section but as I use MyBlogLog to watch my daily stats (and Google Analytics for trends) I'm shown Hot Communities (my members') all the time.

The WorldWide Top 5 link clicks is going to be a powerhouse. People will fight over this section for the traffic it could deliver. As a user I enjoy spotting break buzzes out the internet and often wish there was a setting in Google Reader to have it go fetch updates more often! With this uber-top five we have another way to spot KIBs (Key Influencing Blogs) for social media strategies.

I assume the Top 5 in Edinburgh are the top five links clicked by users in Edinburgh. That seems like the only way .de sites could get there. Clicking on the "Edinburgh" or "United Kingdom" links takes us to maps.mybloglog.com. This is new. Well. New to me.

The new homepage seems to have come at a time where MyBlogLog's servers are struggling (Both Yahoo Pipes and MyBlogLog, the newbies, have this problem) and this second screen grab shows the MyBlogLog home as it is for me right now. It's the old style and most of the contents have crumbled into a small section in the middle.

With a bit of luck MyBlogLog's servers will recover and we can go see what MyBlogLog's Maps sub-domain is all about. Hopefully it's a geo-overview of blog communities. I predict a lot of MyBlogLog communities around the Philippines and Thailand.

Friday, February 09, 2007

iCrossing buys Spannerworks

Hehe. Media Post and Andy Beal report that iCrossing is due to buy Spannerworks. My post about people buying seo agencies was a fluke in timing. Honest.

Congratulations to Spannerworks. I hope this works out for them. In the cut throat UK agency world Spannerworks are one of the few to act with honour. I'm not sure about the £9m price tag though. That seems awfully low. Let's assume a x3, x4 or x5 price value based on turnover. Back in 2005 Spannerworks had a £2m turn over. This means they either got a low deal or they've not increased their turnover. Either seems unlikey.

Spannerworks will buy links. Other than that Spannerworks tends to walk the White Hat path. If I ask the bigmouths with an iProspect, Diddit, Media Partner, Google, etc, background then it seems like there may be a culture clash between Spannerworks and iCrossing.

Anyway. What does this mean?

It means Spannerworks have made it to the USA. We're yet to see whether the brand makes it. iCrossing have made to the UK. We're yet to see whether the brand comes with them.

Will General Atlantic buy an SEO firm?

I know "two moves" does not make a trend but let's pause and examine what the private equity firm General Atlantic have been doing lately.

Three days ago they announced that they're going to buy Network Solutions. It's a shame we don't get to find out how much Network Solutions is worth.

At the start of the month General Atlantic took a big chunk of the independent creative agency AKQA. I was fortunate enough to watch Michael de Kare-Silver present to a small audience once. He's good. You know you're in for a good presentation when the presenter produces two powered speakers and the video intro begins to roll.

If there is an investment firm who might be eying up an SEO agency then it is likely to be General Atlantic.

Are they a stalking horse? Could there be others?

Back in January Gord Hotchkiss mused whether SEO agencies were attractive for acquisitions. The conclusion seemed to point towards an uncertain new future. Personalised search worries people. However, full search agencies are about traffic and conversions rather than just position. The future for the best full search agencies is rosy.

In the same article Hotchkiss cited Aegis' acquisition of iProspect for $50 million. People remember the iProspect deal because it was the first big one.

Over at Search Engine Land it was Barry Schwartz who broke the news of the bigmouthmedia merger. The figure he went with was £150m. That's $300m today or about six times the iProspect deal. One again, "two moves" doesn't make a trend but this is certainly an increase. The bigmouthmedia deal wasn't a full service agency grabbing at search, it was one set up by Carlyle, who dominate private equity and was with Global Media another large SEO agency.

Carlyle is a trend setter. They are involved in deals involving SEO agencies and so others - players such as General Atlantic - are certainly considering similar moves.

Technology for Marketing

I went to the Technology for Marketing Awards and Expo on the 6th. My first comment is that having the Awards Dinner clearly makes a big impact. This was the first time TFM had had Awards (with Marcus Brigstocke as compere) and as a result the Expo seemed to be busier. I think this was the 7th Expo. I've chosen to headline with the Google stand juxtaposed with the empty second level of the Olympia just because it was a better photo. A small collection of pictures can be found on our company Flickr account.

Google out in the cold? Not really. They had the otherwise empty upstairs area to themselves because it put their collection of stalls next to the Google surgery. As usual I heard the same comments about the surgery - a lot of interest and then some (not everyone) complaining that it was too much of an "AdWords sales pitch". The problem is in expectation. I don't expect Google to reveal the secrets of their algorithm in a public surgery. Some people, sadly, turn up expecting Google to get their site to number #1.

I had my own little speaking slot in TFM alongside Fabio from Rackspace. It was a case study so we had to include some results but, of course, no numbers that would give away inappropriately large amounts of Rackspace data. I tried to assume that the audience had some basic understanding and talked more about the importance of planning and expectation management. I also used the quote from Google's own guidelines to remind the audience that ethical agencies report spam when they find it. It's a quote that tends to discourage people from walking the black hatted path.

Next up is Search Engine Strategies London. I'm hoping it'll be better than last year. I think the new owners, Apax, will up the ante and put more cash in. Incisive seemed to struggle with the conferences.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Yahoo Pipes and the other Yahoo pipes

I'm not surprised to see the hardtech among the SEO community writing up Yahoo Pipes. It is codeporn.

It's not doing so well right now, though.


It's also worth giggling over Yahoo UK's current search results for Yahoo Pipes.

Monday, February 05, 2007

How commercial is your blog?

SEOmoz's decision to charge money for access 'premium' content interests me. It's a brave move and I'm going to be really interested to see how or if it works. The SEO world can be bi-polar at times. This move doesn't align easily with the divisions.

You could just about argue that there are two broad types of SEO services; off-the-shelf and the consultancy. Off-the-shelf is often cheap; sites that submit your URL to thousands of directories (don't do it!) or people keen to automated as much as possible (often spammy). The consultancy option can be on the brand-aware side where the full search agency provides copywriters, project managers, synergy with off-line and add-ons like "just for your company newsletters".

Before you even get to examining which style of SEO service the searcher/prospect might be interested you should consider two types of search; research and commercial.

Blogs are typically match with research searches. Agency sites are typically more commercial. Those of you who remember the Florida update will remember a time when Google swung SERPs in favour of research.

SEOmoz's new service sits in the middle of research and commercial. It also sits in the middle between off-the-shelf (you get what everyone else gets) and agency (you can ask questions).

As it happens, according to MSN, different blogs and web sites in general have a different likelihood of being commercially focused or researched focus. Different searches also have a different likelihood of being commercial or research. As it turns out the search [SEOmoz] is one of the least commercial searches out there.

Here's a quick top ten table of blog searches (not URLs) which I watch according to Microsoft.

Commercial Intent in Blog Searches
Marketing Pilgrim0.8083
Search Engine Watch0.52685
bigmouthmedia news0.30985
Bruce Clay Blog0.052504
Search Engine Land0.04503
Highrankings0.037111
SEO by the Sea0.024741
Search Engine Journal0.022691
SEOmoz0.021125
TopRankBlog0.012143

Microsoft's tool to measure this intent (closer to 1 is stronger) can be found over at their adLabs but be aware it does change.

I found the results interesting. So I took an even wider scatter of other sites I read - I call them "thought leaders" and compared the commercial intent for brand searches. As a rule, the blog searches were more commercial, even compared to the FT.

Commercial Intent in Thought Leaders
Brand Republic0.47332
ZDNet0.44741
Dvorak0.14606
Diggnation0.081619
FT0.076693
Techcrunch0.070139
Search Engine Strategies0.060776
The Register0.058502
WebProNews0.035844
Telegraph0.021519

It certainly looks like Andy Beal's Marketing Pilgrim a search term that MSN considers highly commercial. This could well be due to the word "marketing" delimited with spaces. Does anyone have a blog search term that's more commercial? Does anyone have a blog any less commercial than Lee Odden's TopRankBlog?

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Dead Birds - When Life Scuppers Your Marketing Campaign

It was about two weeks ago that I first saw a dead chicken on the way to work. I was pretty sure it was a dead chicken... but, come on, a dead bird? Yuck. The advert had been on the side of a bus which had whooshed past at speed and I was left with some doubt in my mind. Who would be advertising dead chickens on the side of a bus?

A few days later I saw another. A different poster - a brown chicken rather than a yellow one - but clearly a dead chicken. Swiftcovered, heh? At the back of my mind I could vaguely recall a TV advert when a guy trying to arrange his insurance gets very frustrated at a bunch of chickens clucking at him in a call centre spoof. It is the same people.

Current affairs have not been kind to Swiftcover. The deadly Asian strain of bird flu - H5N1 - has broken out at a turkey farm in England this weekend. The news is full of images of dead birds being dumped into large trucks.

The public is worried. The BBC has interviews with Joe Public who all say they'll be steering clear of poultry. Of course, these people are over reacting, but Joe Public has a propensity to do that.

It's just bad timing. Very bad timing. Under no circumstances do you want your brand associated with bird flu. Unless, well, you sell flu vaccinations or health insurance. Unfortunately for Swiftcover they only sell car, travel, dog or cat insurance. I suspect only farmers get chicken insurance.

I should remind you that this is a personal blog and opinions here (I have lots of them) do not reflect the opinions of the company I work for.

My first reaction to the dead chicken advert was a bad one. Sure - it got my attention - but I didn't think "Ah-ah! Swiftcover!" My first thoughts were "Yuck. Was that a dead bird? What on earth?" A negative response. I don't mind being challenged when it comes to important issues like domestic violence, famines abroad, climate change or drugs but my hackles rise when someone tries shock tactics to sell me car insurance.

Given the bird flu outbreak the dead birds seem even less pleasant.

As it turns out this isn't the first time Swiftcover's chickens have been used. The Register has an article dating back to 2005 which explains that despite 800 complaints Swiftcover was allowed to depict call centre workers as chickens (call centre workers in the UK complained). Now Swiftcover are killing those call centre workers off. Another negative association.

I remember the dead birds not the insurance deals. Now the 24 hour news channels are full of H5N1 stories I strongly suspect most of the UK will be noticing the dead birds before they notice the insurance offers too.

I do remember the phrase "clucking call centre" though. Simple word games always stick in my head. If I didn't camera-phone a picture of the Swiftcover advert I would have gone to Google to check for that.


Swiftcover's SEO hasn't done too badly here. They've got the site in at #3 for the search. Swiftcover are doing the right thing by having a page up with their quriky advertising. In fact, I took the chance to review the TV advert I remembered. They should have the videos up at YouTube though. I would have had a web page for every advert.

It's the PPC players who are doing badly here. Swiftcover aren't represented at all and this would have been a chance to build that brand message. Look at all those pro-call centre adverts who really shouldn't be there. "Clucking" should be a negative keyword for everyone of them.

The other "key phrase" is swiftcovered. The name "Swiftcover" doesn't actually appear on the poster (and I'd always encourage people to put the domain in there). What happens if I search for [swiftcovered]?


Ouch. On this search the organic results are not kind to Swiftcover. They're not on page one. I suspect my suggestion of having one page per ad on their site would have helped them out here.

It's the PPC player (or a big affiliate using Atlas Tracking) who get the position right here. If it wasn't for the AdWord then Swiftcover wouldn't be represented at all.

I'm afraid there's not much you can do to future proof your marketing campaign from the random stuff that RealLife(™) throws at you. I suspect some people would encourage brands to stay away from negative images though. All big brands, especially those which live entirely online, need to coordinate their online and offline advertising. When you're creating a buzz phrase or a memorable quote via posters, radio or TV you should be sure you can be found online for the same quote or buzz. It's a must.

Friday, February 02, 2007

CondéNet and Flip.com

In a few days Flip.com launches. It'll be a great experiment. A very interesting experiment into the power of social media and marketing in this "new age" of user driven leadership.

Of course, for Condé Nast Flip.com is not an experiment. It's a business. One that they hope will succeed. It was only a few days ago that I found myself writing about Condé Nast's Stylefinder.com as a fashionable sister to Reddit. I do wonder if Reddit's lack of style embarrasses the sisters. If you scroll to the bottom of Flip.com (currently in holding page phase) you'll see that the social news site is missing from the list of sister brands.

I like Flip. It's going to be a like MySpace however there's a lot of clever marketing going on. Even with something basic like the banner slot Flip.com is different. As the girls sign up to Flip.com they're allowed to pick and target advertisers who will appear on their Flipbook. Don't like H&M as a brand? Not posh enough for you? Then you'll not let them advertise on your Flipbook.

Oh yeah; Flip.com greatly interests this search marketer but the real target demographics are teenage girls. All too often, teenage girls are too smart for their (and our) own good.

The best bits of Flip and CondéNet's experiement (sorry, business model) is the almost guerilla use of content. There is free image content on Flip. The girls get to scoop up this content and add whatever they like to their Flipbooks. The girls get to show off by having the best Flipbook.

The content is supplied by the advertisers. It's not branded. There's not even a logo. They're simply trying to make fashion merchandise cool. They're trying to get the girls interested. CondéNet charges the advertisers for the honour of supplying content.

It gets better and braver. The girls get to vandalise the images as much as they want. As a Flip.com user you're allowed to scrawl "this sucks!" over anything you want in your Flipbook.

Mike Shields over at Mediaweek has a source which suggests advertisers may be paying between $300,000 and $500,000 per content package.

Some people close to the project are talking. Jessica Ulin from OMD (sister agency of PHD, part of the Omnicom family) who deals with Johnson & Johnson's Clean & Clear has described the approach as the holy grail. In fact, Ulin and I seem to agree that this is an experiment.

“Advertisers are experimenting in speaking to girls in a way they want to be spoken to,”

“The way that advertising is woven into the site is pretty unique,”

“It’s all self-selected. It makes for a more qualified viewer. It’s really the holy grail, when a user identifies with a brand so much.”

As usual I'm left to hope that search engine optimisation and PPC have been thought about from the outset. Flip will use Flash and that's tricky.



(The I support nofollow still enjoys 1 sole supporter.)

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Google Talk

Oh dear. Here in Europe I'm now not supposed to call Gmail anything other than Googlemail. This is not going to be easy. I still call GTalk "cricket" which was the development code name for the project. Is it GTalk or Google Talk anyway? Cricket sounds better.
In a "new for me exclusive" I've just noticed Gmail (sorry, Googlemail) using the Cricket (sorry, Google Talk) sidebar to try and lure me into luring in friends.

Google doesn't do 'social media' very well right now. Google Notepad - remember that? Google Coop - remember that? When Google ties in the Google Talk contacts into the web then we'll have Google doing 'social media'. I predict we'll see little green buttons around the web to indicate when your Google Talk contact is on or off line.

ARHG! Google News

I'm not loving Google News' problems right now. Simply put; Google News is broken. I work with a number of newspapers and magazines who are in Google News. Bigmouthmedia's own newsfeed is in Google News. I can tell you that Google News drives a lot of traffic and without it - you certainly notice!

Outer Court has a screen grab of what Google News looks like when it fails. Right now, though, you could probably just hit the home page and find it down.

Here's a screen grab relating to Google News that you probably haven't seen before, though.

You're looking at a crawl rate chart from Google's Webmaster Console for a significant publisher. The charts show that the kilobytes downloaded per day go up and down. Look at the numeric values though. It's the same value across the board. The Maximum, Minimum and Average download in kilobytes is exactly the same. For the last 90 days, according to Google, exactly 2097151 kb has been downloaded.

This particular quirk has persisted for many weeks now. What's going on? First of all 2097151 is a significant number. Do the binary maths. The most likely explanation is that the graphical chart is correct. For some reason, Google's integer counter for the kb download was capped and this particular newspaper has simply reached that cap.

Nevertheless, it's rare for Google to make this sort of coding mistake. It's unheard of for a google.com site to have this sort of technical problem.