Thursday, March 29, 2007

Nicely done Lycos: Lycos MIX PR

I subscribe to a load of RSS feeds. I use Google Reader. I guess there's a YouTube announcement today about a new "Streams" feature. It's not yet hit my RSS radar.

How come I know about it then? Lycos told me. The email was 'signed' by Kathy O'Reilly, Director of Public Relations.

I think this is a good email. A good PR email. It is a response to YouTube's "streams" feature. It's been sent to my bigmouthmedia address - we, of course, have a very popular news email and RSS feed.

If you are planning a story on YouTube's new "Streams" feature, I'm hoping you'll include a mention of Lycos MIX (http://mix.lycos.com/) and the Lycos Watch & Chat Technology, launched in November 2006.

Skill. Just skillful. Of course I'm likely / bigmouthmedia is likely to write about YouTube news (although I'll leave that for someone else - we have a pool system where people get to pick what interests them). When you're writing you want to sound intelligent and well informed. One way to achieve that is to reference similar products, especially if they're not so well known (but perhaps should be) and launched some time ago.

This is a good email from Lycos because they're very likely to ride on the back of YouTube's news. A little.

Kathy (or her team) then go on to say:
Before YouTube's announcement today, Lycos launched its Cinema Platform in Nov., featuring the web's first watch & chat technology, where users can view video content in synchronous real-time, with EVERYONE watching the SAME video at the SAME time, regardless of when they enter the room.

Good. If I was going to mention Lycos' Cinema Now in any news article on YouTube streaming then I'm likely to be comparing the two. Lycos is reminding me of why Cinema Now might be better. They're also making it easier to compare the two and therefore making it easier for me to write about Lycos.

That said; I suspect this wasn't the type of blog post Lycos hoped I would write! Ah... the tricky nature of 'social media optimisation'

MIVA beats Google at Condé Nast

Here in the UK, MIVA have won a prestigious account with Condé Nast. The pay-per-click engine gets exclusive rights at powering the PPC content network for all 12 sites controlled by Condé Nast Interactive U.K. This means 54 million extra impressions for MIVA. The sites include Stylefinder, Vogue.com and Vanityfair.co.uk.

MIVA beat Yahoo and kicked off Google.

This is also an email deal. I suspect it may have been that which won it for them. MIVA will also put their pay-per-click adverts in 500,000 opt-in emails. Here's a comment from MIVA's press release which talks about it.

"Two MIVA Pay-Per-Click Ads will be displayed in each email newsletter through MIVA's proprietary MIVA Mail technology. The technology which underpins MIVA Mail ensures that the latest Ads from across MIVA's network are displayed regardless of when emails are opened."

Gosh. I'm almost tempted to sign up to a newsletter to see how the updating content ads work. An iframe or JavaScript insert in an HTML newsletter? Risky! Spam and security filters around the world will brickwall those emails.

Any one got an example of an email with a MIVA Mail ad in it?

Monday, March 26, 2007

Blogs, blogs, blogs

"Blogs, blogs, blogs" - haha, no - not trying to keyword stuff. This is an aggregate post on blogs.

I've re-jigged my blogroll (and called it a blogroll for the first time too). I still read the blogs I've taken off but just thought they were either inappropriate for this blog's blogroll or unnecessary for the blogroll. I don't need to recommend Google's main blog to you, do I?

I've added Hoachi's excellent Googlified, Andy Beal's Marketing Pilgrim (and credit to Jordan McCollum's contributions too) and I've added SEO by the SEA too. One of the early "wins" from this blog has been my discovery of SEO by the SEA.

I've also added a link to e-Consultancy too. I tried to slyly make that blogroll point directly at my new expert blogger status there but just couldn't do it! It seemed too much like a cheap trick. I'm really pleased to be blogging at e-consultancy. The additional blog gives me the chance to talk more about SEM to an audience interested in learning about SEM or hearing what professional SEMers from agencies have to say.

Here's a recommendation for you. Andy Beal's hit on another clever idea and is asking for suggestions of RSS feeds worth subscribing too. This isn't re-hashing the 'A-list' of blogs but Andy's attempt to unearth blogs worth reading that aren't counted among the 'A-list'. I'm using the post to talent scout too!

The 'A-list'. Meh. What a horrible phrase. I remember clearly that one of the reasons I started this blog was because of frustration at the unhelpful cliques on the forums. Are people beginning to get annoyed at the blogging cliques now too? Yes - based on the grapevine today. Much of this started when Michael Gray asked 'non A-list' to stop blogging. I think this was un-intentional linkbait though I'm sure he'd argue it was intentional now!

I'm not an A-list blogger. I only kick started this blog at the start of the year. I get more traffic to my Bom Chicka Wah Wah post than to my homepage at times. I don't really deserve to be an 'A-list' blogger either because I simply don't have the time to give to this blog. However I am aware of a real difference between 'A-list' bloggers and Search Marketing consultants with experience of, say, an annual $2,000,000 PPC campaign, or an SEO campaign across 20 countries, three creative agencies, four production teams, six project planners and co-ordination with a multi-million pound TV campaign.

I'm not saying that simply working at a large and successful Search agency makes you 'A-list' in anyway but there cannot be many marketing disciplines where the collective voice of so many SME's out weighs the reputation of the heavy-hitters.

In some ways this is a good thing. This innovation and transparency in the forefront. If Jo Blogger discovers a Google bug they'll blog about it and lap up the traffic. I won't do that. If I discover a Google bug then I'm emailing that off to contacts in Google. I reckon, since I started this blog, I've written two such emails that could have put this blog on the main news at Search Engine Land. I've been linked to by Techcrunch and ZDNet already this year. Rather than shouting; "Yay!" I winced and worried that I'd blogged too much detail!

I also sometimes wince at what is handed out as canon advice to people in search conferences. My Meta, meta, meta post at e-consultancy touches on that. I so often hear SME SEO dismiss the Robots meta tag. That's fair to a point but the larger the project then the more important future proofing becomes. This is sometimes an example of a so-called 'A-list' blogger not being able to translate their skills to an 'A-list' client roster.

Also on the negative side of having so many passionate, intelligent but relatively small consultancies and companies set the SEO agenda is that it keeps the industry feeling 'cottage' rather than looking like the multi-billion offering it is.

Lisa Barone, over at the Bruce Clay blog, is an example of someone who does really well at getting that mix right. She writes from one of the bigger SEO agencies, but writes in a style which captures the attention of the SEO blog community, she writes about issues appropriate to both a blog and a client-based readership and writes about them to an appropriate depth. The Bruce Clay blog does not feel cottage!

Do I have a conclusion? I do. I'm disagreeing with Gray. I don't want less famous search bloggers to stop writing. I want them to keep on writing. I also want to see more blog posts akin to what we get from The Lisa and Gord Hotchkiss. I want to see blog posts from bigger SEM agencies or full service agencies who try and offer SEO and PPC to their clients!

Mobile Social - It's going to be big

Google is really putting a lot of resources into mobile search. I think their unofficial base for mobile is their engineering level in Belgravia House.

If you've heard me talk about mobile search then you'll have heard me point out that there are more mobile phones in the UK than there are computers. In fact there are more mobiles in the UK than there are people. What's more - the UK public are incredibly mobile savvy and really able to use their phones.

One of the obvious areas for mobile is the social side. The mobile phone is seen as a very personal device. How often do you let a SMS sit in your inbox for a day or so before you reply? Far less often than you let an email reset in your inbox before you hit reply. It seems to be far more rude not to reply to an SMS than it is not to reply to an email. Friends know that I'm not always to reply promptly to an email but I don't have such a strong excuse for ignoring an SMS. Some friends who know my BlackBerry (work) email have started to use that address rather than any of my myriad of personal addresses. Why? Simply because they know that my work email address is connected to the mobile device.

I think a great way phone networks could encourage loyalty from their subscribers is to offer a mobile social networking platform that's coupled to the network. Leave the network and you'll also have to leave that mobile social platform behind. Many people pick their networks simply through a social selection process. My friends are on Network X and therefore it makes sense for me to be on Network X.

Of course, right now there are platform independent social sites. Google's own Dodgeball is something of an example (if a little left field from what I've just been discussing). Dodgeball is a social offering in that it knows your friends and you uses it to be social. If Dodgeball ran here in Edinburgh or in London and Manchester then I'd "ping" my friends as I traveled back and forth between bigmouth's UK offices. London friends would know when I was out and about in London. They would know that I was in the Pizza Express around the corner from my hotel if I wanted.

Last week Carat (sibling agency to iProspect) won the contract for Pitch Entertainment Group's mobile social networking service. Pitch's offering is a bit like MySpace but is purely mobile. Users can upload information and photographs. There will be instant messaging too. Instant messages from mobile to mobile is far more engaging form of IM than, say, messages from one forum profile to another.

This is reported to be a six figure deal for Carat. That's a sign of how seriously Pitch Entertainment Group are taking their mobile social site. I think it is a good idea. I think first mover advantage is still there to be had in the mobile social space. We are certainly still to see the first market leader.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Why link sellers are taking a risk with their site

I’ve already tried to make myself unpopular with the I support nofollow campaign (which is currently supported by only one blogger; me) and my reasons why I support nofollow.

My blog-sense is at it again. I just know that by pointing out selling links could be risky I suspect I'll attract even more frowns.

Right now link selling seems to be risk free. Google, via Matt Cutts, have made it clear that link sellers loose their ability to pass PageRank on. They loose their ability to vote for the sites that they link to. The link buyers cannot see that and so keep buying links from the caught link sellers.

But what if Google tweaked things so that link buyers could see which sites had been caught selling links? What if the PageRank bar in the toolbar turned from green to black for link sellers? The link seller would find themselves with a black mark. Quite literally.

It's hard to gauge whether Google would do something like that. Right now, as long as Google is confident that link selling is not corrupting the search results too much then the search engine will be happy that its defences are strong enough. After all, Google doesn't mind if people pour money into useless bought links.

Google certainly seems keen to avoid removing quality sites which just happen to sell links from its own search results. Many high profile sites sell links. The invisible penality which prevents these sites from passing PageRank on does not prevent them from gaining PageRank or even gaining high search positions.

A public black mark approach wouldn't disrupt that desire either. Quality sites which earned a little cash through link selling would continue to rank well. The only change would be that those who knew where to look would know the site had been caught. One risk could be on the legal front. There may be legal issues in calling someone a link seller if they're not. False positives are not a problem in the current system because no one knows they are there.

Would a public black mark encourage less people to sell links? I think it would. Some people simply would not want to risk entering Google's bad books. If the black mark became a significant stigma or shame then even more webmasters would shy a way from selling links.

Ironically, I suspect a public black mark for link selling would encourage more webmasters to use 'nofollow'. In order to avoid the risks of false positives and being wrongly labelled as a link seller then more webmasters and bloggers would be far more liberal with their application of 'nofollow'.

There may seem to be no real risk in selling links today. Tomorrow black marks might start to name and shame sites around the web.

PPC Earthquake and e-Consultancy's roundtables

I was lucky enough to be able to take part in two e-consultancy roundtables yesterday. We had discussions on viral marketing and on Online PR. The roundtable for Online PR was particularly busy and Daryl Willcox has a good write-up.

I think we'll see "traditional PR" and "online PR" begin to move closer together. Right now, for SEO firms, "PR" tends to stand for (PageRank) Press Release rather than Public or Press Relations. The buzz around social media optimisation is also likely to result in more SEO firms' PR offering maturing and evolving. I'm not sure if the two (three?) will ever meet in the middle but there is certainly a lot to be had from online savvy PR firms working closely with SEO agencies today.

I'm looking forward to Chinwag's PPC Earthquake. In particular I'll be looking forward to talking to Nigel Leggatt, Marketing Manager of Micrsoft adCenter.

PPC Earthquake is a good name. This mini-conference owns that keyword space. Danny's SMX has the same intelligence behind it. I would run sweepstakes on how long Santa Maria Airport can hold it's #1 position for the term but I would have to payout multiple winners based on geography and personalisation!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Who is the most prolific search inventor?

I thought it might be fun to see who is the most prolific search inventor. I've a pile of search patents (about 40 in total) and went through them to compile a list of authors/inventors. This isn't a scientific study but it certainly a good way to work out who you should pounce on in search conferences.


Search Patent InventorCredits
David Ku5
Eckart Walther5
Qi Lu5
Ali Diab4
Chung-Man Tam4
Kevin Lee4
Amit Patel3
Hal Varian3
Simon Tong3
Brian Axe2
Deepak Jindal2
Gokul Rajaram2
Jeffrey Dean2
Jianchang Mao2
Matt Cutts2
Narayanan Shivakumar2
Rama Ranganath2
Richard Kasperski2
Sanjay Ghemawat2
Wesley Chan2
Zhichen Xu2
Adam Darlow1
Adam Dingle1
Alan . Strohm1
Alan Levin1
Alex Khesin1
Alexander Paul Carobus1
Amy Koch1
Andrei Z. Broder1
Andrew William Hogue1
Andriy Bihun1
Andy Curtis1
Anna L. Patterson1
Anurag Acharya1
Apostolos Gerasoulis1
Arkady Borkovsky1
Ashutosh Garg1
Benedict Gomes1
Benjamin Garrett1
Benyu Zhang1
Christopher M. Atenasio1
Daisy Stanton1
Daniel E. Rose1
Darrell Anderson1
David Braginsky1
David Carmel1
Deborah Anne Wallach1
Dipchand Nishar1
Dmitriy Meyerzon1
Dmitriy Portnov1
Doug Beeferman1
Eduardo Morales1
Elad Gil1
Elad Yom-Tov1
Farzin Maghoul1
Fay Wen Chang1
Feng Hu1
Georges R. Harik1
Giao Nguyen1
Hongche Liu1
Hua-Jun Zeng1
Hugo Zaragoza1
Jason Douglas1
Jason Goldman1
Jeff Reynar1
Jeremy Ginsberg1
Jian-Tao Sun1
John Piscitello1
Jonathan T. Betz1
Karl Pfleger1
Kenneth Norton1
Kourosh Gharachorloo1
Krishna Bharat1
Lawrence Ip1
Leora Ruth Wiseman1
Leshika Samarasinghe1
M.S. Kiumarse Zamanian1
Marissa Mayer1
Mark Rose1
Maximillian Ibel1
Mayur Datar1
Michael Angelo1
Michael Stoppelman1
Monika Henzinger1
Nathan Stoll1
Olcan Sercinoglu1
Paul Haahr1
Paul Joseph Apodaca1
Pavan Kumar Desikan1
Prasenjit Phukan1
Ralph M. Keller1
Ralph R. Rabbat1
Robert J. Collins1
Robert J. Stets1
Sanjeev Kulkarni1
Sascha B. Brawer1
Satish Kumar Sampath1
Scott A. Gatz1
Scott Melvin Harvester1
Shai Fine1
Shubin Zhao1
Sridhar Ramaswamy1
Steve Lawrence1
Steve Miller1
Sumit Agarwal1
Susan Wojcicki1
Susannah Raub1
Timothy James1
Urs Hoelzle1
Vinod Marur1
Wei-Ying Ma1
Wilburt Labio1
Zheng Chen1

Monday, March 19, 2007

Why SearchEngineLand and SERoundtable are heavy hitters

Look at my subscription trends. Brand Republic dominates. Brand Republic is closely followed by the ever cutting The Register and then, after a gap, Search Engine Land.

Okay. That's a big gap. Search Engine Land does not compete with the high volume, high quality professional sites... but compare it to TechCrunch. Search Engine Land, with Danny Sullivan at the helm, out posts TechCrunch who have just hired Heather Harde from Fox to act as CEO. If Danny is the CEO of Search Engine Land he's also the MD and editor in chief. That's a lot of responsibility and you would have to admit that he does very well.

Of course, at Search Engine Land there are other passionate and intelligent contributors - you'll have noted that I've come to really rate Bill Slawski and Barry Schwartz. You know Chris Sherman is a power of support behind the scenes. Slawski does quality. Schwartz seems to dedicate himself to writing about breaking news. A review of my trends shows that he has two - Cartoon Barry and SERoundtable - in my list. That's some achievement!

Andy Beal's Marketing Pilgrim, of course, does well as does UK favourite E-Consultancy. It's a shame that there isn't an US equivalent of E-Consultancy as I find myself only able to review the high level agency activity and the blog level SEO activity. I'm not sure how to classify Marketing Pilgrim. It seems bigger than a blog but also more personal than a news site like Search Engine Land or The Register. However I classify the site - I do get a positive and up-to-the-minute vibe from the site.

What Search Engine Land and SERoundtable do (and bare in mind that Barry Schwartz contributes to both) is to dedicate ample resources to monitoring the internet. They have people watching the Key Influencing Forums and Blogs (*gasp* social media optimisation) and have resources enough to post quick and intelligent replies.

Linking to other sites increases your stickyness

I really like Google Analytics. You can do more clever analytical reviews with it than many people assume. Ever since I kicked this blog out of the long grass at the start of the year I've been using user-defined segmentation. I've been tracking link clicks.

On this blog there are four types of clicks that I track:

  • Blog Clicks - clicks on the blog roll
  • External Clicks - clicks to external sites
  • Nav Clicks - clicks on the navigation
  • Social Clicks - clicks on the digg, del.icio.us, etc links at the bottom of the posts

The P/Visit column is the one to watch. This records the pages per visit. The highest value is on External-Clicks up at 2.89. That's nearly twice as many page views any other.

To be brutal - these are low P/Visit counts. Blogs tend to be low as readers pop in based on an RSS prompt or tag match and then leave again. However, this data goes back until Janurary so there is a clear trend.

This data should not be taken as scientific. I've not closed the test. I meddled with my tracking some point.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Bom Chicka Wah Wah

There's a Lynx ad running on UK TV with the catch phrase "Bom Chicka Wah Wah". A guy introduces his sexy girlfriend to his parents. His father visits the loo and accidentally squirts himself with some of his son's Lynx. As a result the girlfriend rips the father's clothes off. This is a reason to buy Lynx.

The catch phrase "Bom Chicka Wah Wah" is uttered by the foxy girlfriend. I've preferred other Lynx ads but the special thing about this ad is that it creates a keyphrase. Bom Chicka Wah Wah would score about 50% in the phone test. If you have to spell a domain name or keyphrase out down the phone then the domain/phrase fails the phone test. Bom Chicka Wah Wah is pleasant on the ear but it doesn't translate so easily into a search term as, for example, "quote me happy" did.

Bartle Bogle Hegarty (BBH) do the TV advert and, I think, the Flash website staring Kelly Brook, so I'm going to assume that they do the search too. BBH get some things right - they spell out "Bom Chicka Wah Wah" at the end of the TV advert so we can see how to spell it.

There's also a paid search campaign which not only picks up [Bom Chicka Wah Wah] but [Bom Chicka] too. Don't search and click (that's mean) you can find the flash site at Lynx Players.


Of course, it would be better if the site had organic rankings for the phrase too. That would have been easy enough to do. Lynx Players, being in Flash, will always struggle organically.

The analytics geek in me also hopes that the URL ?ref=index.php is there to allow deep linking into the Flash movie and not for the tracking. If you've visiting the site from this blog then you're not coming from index.php at all and that's exactly why tracking by URL is so prone to corruption.

Next time, hopefully, Lynx will have an organically search safe page in place to catch any of the traffic that [bom chicka wah wah] might create for them - and save themselves the PPC costs.

More Google search results in the search results - sex too

I just happened to notice Google ranking Google Trends for [sex]. Page two result - not bad at all for the highly competitive search term.

Google do use robots.txt to block the url snippet /trends? from their results. However, what we have here is a (at least one expert) site linking to Google Trends using [sex] in the anchor. You can see this in the title Google's given to the result - that's the anchor text. The lack of snippet means Google's not ever been to the page. In a way Google are falling foul of their own system (provided Google Trend results in Google's SERPs are seen to be a no-no in the same way as YouTube search results were).

Okay. So why was I searching for sex on Google? A client's Webmaster Console over at Google suggested that they too had a fairly good rank for [sex].


In the UK this report is often wrong. I can't find the client's site anywhere near the reported position. Perhaps there are lots of people with personalised results strongly in favour of our client and who research for these terms.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Client wins to be proud of

I'm just back from London and wading through my Google Reader feeds. I've noticed a pair of client wins to be proud of.

Zed Digital won Yahoo's search marketing campaign (taking it from Carat). The Yahoo deal is probably worth around €20,000,000 or €15,000,000. We didn't pitch (I think Isobar and eSearchVision did) so this isn't (too much) sour grapes but it would be good to see a full search agency get the search work from a search engine in the future.

I think Yahoo would be a great company to work with. A Y! on the roster would be shiny-shiny indeed! One of my first lecturers at University, a hippy gone academic, once wished the class a "profoundly funky weekend". For some inexplicable reason I know associate that lecturer and the phrase "profoundly funky" with Yahoo! My first ever credit card was a purple and yellow Yahoo branded card (via the Halifax).

In other news, also of kudos clients, I noticed that MPG picked up the £20,000,000 BBC online account. I'm not sure if that includes search. I'm not sure if the BBC does search (but I do recall a BBC Shop affiliate scheme). MPG beat Mediaedge:cia and ZenithOptimedia (who own Zed Digital) as well as PHD and Carat - so I can imagine it was a tough fight! Oliver Milman, over at mad.co.uk, tends to be good and include all the agency details in his write ups.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Google versus Search Results

Following a post from Matt Cutts there has been quite a bit of industry nose along the lines of "Google cracking down on search results in their index".

Is it as clear cut as that? Sites like Kelkoo and Dealtime do well in Europe on their organic search results. These pages are, however, essentially search results. Does Google wish Kelkoo to remove their category pages from Googlebot’s gaze?

It’s also not uncommon for CMS (content management systems) to work through hard-coded search results. FAST, Endeca or even some Venda systems can do this. This Internet Retailer article describes the success Wal-Mart has had with Endeca (a product I certainly recommend) but if you pause to examine Wal-Mart’s learning toys page then you’re pausing to look at a set of search results which match the learning toys matrix in Wal-Mart’s database.

These are not the sort of search results that (I imagine) Google want to exclude from their index.

Let’s look for a rule of thumb. I think it’s more likely that the search results which Google wishes to exclude are those generated by forms. Users enter some free text and are returned a set of results to match that. Pages like this are typically known as “the invisible web” as, safe behind their web forms, they can often be invisible to search engines. If your web form creates unique URLs for each search (?search=key+words) then you can include these URLs in your Sitemap XML.

I can see why Google would want to exclude search results from their index. Let’s not drive searchers in circles. I just think this is a greyer area than many people appreciate.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Personal Search

I like the phrase “Personal Search” at it seems to fit in with “Local Search”, “Mobile Search” and “Video Search” … and all the other searches we have out there.

I like the trend we are seeing towards Personalised Search Results / Personalised Search but many SEO agencies and individuals do not. I’m not surprised. Personalised Search Results threaten the concept of ‘high rankings’ as the single goal of search engine optimisation. High rankings should not be the only goal of SEO, though. If your focus is entirely on high rankings then the growth of personalised results threatens your focus. Personalised Search Engine Result Pages - PSERPS? – no, that’s a silly acronym and reminds me too much of Judge Dredd’s “perps”.

One of the reasons I like personalised search results is that it adds some marketing flare to search marketing. I don’t like link buying. In a heavily personalised search environment it is impossible to blast your way to the top for enough terms by link buying. Vanity terms start to count for less. The demographic tail of organic search counts for more. I dislike that “so-called” form of SEO where companies FTP up a bunch of pages to your site. That tactic barely brings in any traffic now. In the future it’ll bring in even less. With personalised results your ethical and clever ideas are even more clever. With personalised results then your savvy demographic targeting is a larger success than it was last year.

So perhaps I like personalised search because it does not harm my organic style of search engine optimisation. For me, SEO has always been about working with the system. Organic search is making sure your site achieves everything it should – and everything it could – in the search environment.

Above all; the thing to remember is that if your website cannot be found in search, in Google, then you’ll never be able to have searchers develop a personalised preference for your site. Organic search engine optimisation comes first and Personalised search engine optimisation is the next stage.

I’ve noticed that many clients and audience members in seminars are worried about Personalised Search though. Typically clients and seminar audiences are pro Google. If Google do something then they want a piece of the action too. The last time I witnessed a negative reaction to a Google offering was over Gmail – people really reacted badly to the idea of targeted adverts in their email. That was, in my opinion, an over reaction compounded by a lack of understanding. I’ve had some interesting questions regarding Personalised Search though.

What if I don’t want my results personalised?” asked one attendee. It was as if she was happy with Google and did not want it to change. My response to her was to log out of Google or not opt-in to the history recording option. From her reaction I could tell she was not impressed with the options. If you’re a frequent Gmail or Google Calendar user then logging in and logging out all the time is a pain.

What if I do a lot of online shopping for friends?” asked another. I saw her concern too. If I’m buying something for my mother than I really do not want Google to start personalising my search towards her tastes! This time my response seemed to satisfy the audience better. I spoke of trends and how one or two searches, especially out of character/out of trend searches, would not typically result in Google evolving your personalised preferences.

If I search a holiday in Greece in the winter and then start to research another holiday for summer… isn’t Google going to show a preference for Greek holiday results? I would want to go somewhere else.” I must admit – that was a good question. It is probably one of those times when personalised results might begin at a disadvantage but, if Google had the sensitivity right, begin to swing around to your way of thinking as you ignored the Greece holiday sites and started to show a preference for another. It is also likely that there would be strong “pro-Greek” signals in your winter search, especially if you knew before your research that you wanted to go to Greece, that would not be there in your summer holiday search.

There were the typical questions from marketers who have employed a search agency and wanted to know whether they could still see if the company was doing a good job for them. The log out and check the “natural organic” results option was there. In addition, search engine optimisation agencies doing a good job will tend to have a positive effect on traffic. Personalised search does not change how you record traffic and other web metrics from your site.

I do like personalised search results but I do wonder whether an opt-out more graceful than simply logging out might be a good idea. If Google’s users like the search quality they get from Google and understand how their results are being personalised to them then I can see why they would want to take an active role in preserving those search results.

Perhaps a “Personal Search” option should be considered by Google. A Personal Search would be one which you did not share with the search engine’s memory. A Personal Search, maybe Private Search is a better term, is one which did not influence your personalised history or search pattern.

I can tell this will be a subject which I’ll find my thoughts drifting back to again and again this year. It is also going to be one which remains a hot topic for a while to come. Just wait until the mainstream marketing media starts to write about it in force.

One final and ironic note, over at Google.co.uk, when Google personalises my results they say I'm getting personalized results. No. I don't spell the word that way. Personalised results but not localised results!

Monday, March 12, 2007

WebProNews: the Return

I had a number of motives when I set this blog up. One of my motives was to rant my frustration at a number of SEO forums and publications. On the publication front I found it intensely annoying that so much poorly written, wrong, speculation presented as fact or just cliquey back-scratching.

Back in 2005 I let loose on WebProNews and an article about “Google Bowling". The article exposed a "loophole" wherein competitors could, as easy as pie, buy a lot of links to your domain and knock you out of Google. Yeah. Right.

It seems like WebProNews has been my whipping boy of rushed and commercial content for years… but I need to set the record straight. In the last few quarters WebProNews has really been winning me over. I've seen a real shift from quantity over to quality.

One of WebProNew's biggest successes has been the appointment of staff writers. Not only can the staff writers actually write – but they are much less partisan than many other contributors. In particular I'm fond of David Utter's articles. Utter writes well. He finds interesting issues to right about. He tends not to write with bias. Utter also writes frequently.

Right now, WebProNew's front page is dominated by David Utter stories.

There are still some things about WebProNews that I would rather change. I dislike the way adverts/advertorials are mashed into the news archive section. I want to use the news archives! I think WebProNews still suffers from authors that clearly have an axe to grind. You can spot this lot because they tend to talk about the same issue or keep on citing the same site/blog/company. The axe grinding effect magnifies when other authors start quoting the axe grinders own blogs.

WebProNews has a strange relationship with some of my other news sources. I would classify Search Engine Land as a competitor to WebProNews (give me brand guidelines and I'll get the spacing right!). Nevertheless, it was Search Engine Land and the daily Search Cap which pointed me at WebProNews today. We have this situation because each of the two news sites get most of their news content by watching what is breaking elsewhere on the internet and by writing it up. Search Engine Land's advantage is that people will news will tend to come to Danny Sullivan first to share it and that whatever Barry Schwartz says can often be influential enough to become news – increasingly the same is true for Bill Slawski.

Google News has the concept of a "Hub". If you're in Google News (and there are less people in Google News than with #1 rankings that they are proud of) and have News Crawl errors you can download the report. The downloaded xls is a little different from the web report and contains the additional Hub column. It's always good to know if Google News considers you a “news hub" or not.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Video PR - the Interview

I can prove to the office that I did go to SES London this year. I was caught on tape. The thing about a scruff attending a three day conference is that you look more scruffy than normal - that's a LiveJournal t-shirt I'm wearing.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Cheapflights CEO warns against Google trap

When I read the title of the Mad.co.uk article I knew I was going to blog about it. "Cheapflights CEO warns against Google trap" (log in needed).

The trap, according to David Soskin, is threefold. You have to combine your PPC and your organic search. You need to learn through trial and error. You need to diversify rather than just count on Google.

I agree with all three points.

If you're running a large PPC campaign then it can be easily to rely on Google and, sometimes, Yahoo and MSN simply do not have the volume to keep up. That really is an area to watch.

There are no quick wins, certainly not in SEO and even with PPC - although you can make quick and decisive steps - you do need data and time on your side to begin to really optimise the account.

You certainly need to combine your PPC and SEO strategies. There are very few agencies known for good SEO and good PPC and so it can be a challenge for some big brands to find help here.

Ahem. Now for the other reason why I knew I would be blogging about these comments from Mad.co.uk's SEO conference. I was pleased to see that Soskin cited British Airways as a company that deployed a good search engine marketing strategy. Clearly I can't discuss that much at all but I think BA has done very well with Google Earth and the marketing campaign around it.

Digital Cream

I was lucky enough to go speak at Digital Cream yesterday.

It was a really good event. Speaking in the Natural Search track I was able to pick my own agenda and discuss SEO issues which face decision makers responsible for marketing big brands.

What did I cover? This was an audience who didn't need to be told what a meta tag was but I thought it would be a nice idea to pause and examine whether meta tags actually work these days. Of course they do, well, if you know how to use them right. Some meta tags are easy - like "y_key" or "noydir" - but others are a little tricky. One important phrase to use here is "quality signal" and that's a phrase Matt Cutts popped into his keynote speech at SES London this year.

One of my favourite "blue sky" discussions at sessions like this the future. What's coming next. There are some easy ones like Video Search and Radio advertising. I'm bias, of course, but also keen that the right people are there to help brands step into the world of Google/dmarc radio.

The old media way would have large, slow and traditional agencies plod forward with scripts and haggling for air time. In the future I hope that new media agencies are there to push the boundaries of technology and marketing.

New media agencies - like full search agencies - are right at home with Google's way of doing things (unlike dmarc's founders who quit - rumours say because they didn't like Google's 'new media' way of doing things) and are positioned to answer questions like "What was the ROI of that radio ad?". The challenge new media agencies face is that of resources. I can't think of many search agencies equipped to compose radio adverts! We're lucky in that we've a room decked out with recording gear in the Edinburgh headquarters for our experiments with podcasting.

Digital Cream disallows agencies from sitting in each others' presentations (though I think I recognised a few faces!) so I didn't get to see what other people wanted to talk about.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Translation Battles - Google versus Edinburgh

Google have enhanced their translation technology with some sexy features. If you happen to notice that a translation is rubbish you can offer a better one. Google's system will learn.

Yup. This is machine learning. It's a clever way to learn as long as you confident you know what your machines are learning. I'm reminded of early Neural Network experiments the US military tried - machines were shown aerial photographs and taught how to spot tanks hiding among trees. It seemed to work very well. The military then tested their Neural Network on photographs they hadn't shown the computer before - and the computer did very well. As a second test the military took some more photographs - and the machines flunked out. The did very badly! As the story goes (and I've not seen the evidence; just been told the story) the computers taught themselves to recognise whether it was cloudy or not. As it happened all the "tank" photographs had been taken on a cloudy day. The test pictures of forests and woods without tanks had been taken on a clear day.

I'm sure Google won't make that mistake with their language learning.

Back in 2005 Google did very well on the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Machine Translation evaluation. So did Edinburgh University.

One of the great advantages Edinburgh offers businesses is the wide range of talented students (three Unis, more colleges and some excellent schools). An added advantage is that you can talk to Edinburgh professors who work on some of the same technologies. Some of these professors have spent time at Google too - though they're very good about honouring their NDAs with the secretive search engine. Nevertheless; I'm always acutely interested in their personal projects and where they think technology is going.

If you're ever in Edinburgh and in the right pub - I recommend buying a round of Innis and Gunn and popping over to the table chatting about backwards propagation and machine prediction.

VidPR - Video Press Releases

There's a debate on whether the wash of SEO fueled releases are corrupting, contaminating or destroying the traditional Press Release. Urm. I've not actually heard anyone outside the SEM industry complain about this. The PR Hubs have to work hard in order to keep their Google News status.

I do think the PR is evolving though. VidPR is a great example of the next level of "press release". As the name suggests VidPR is all about video press releases. I was lucky enough to meet their Managing Director, Michael Patrick, at Search Engine Strategies in London this year. In fact, I was sat down in front of the camera on the last day for a quick chat and an attempt to describe AdSense in layman's terms.

I don't know whether you'll get to see my long-haired mug in a SES video but here is a good example of what VidPR can do for Technology for Marketing. The video is just a few minutes long, needs sound, but I think looks absolutely fantastic. Watch the smaller screens in the corner. VidPR have really managed to sex up TFM.