Wednesday, August 29, 2007

SMO pisses people off

They consider my personal voice a commodity to be acquired, along with what little credibility and authenticity I have. This--I'm afraid--just pisses me off.

That's a quote from one of my favourite blogs, Plasticbag.org, by Tom Coates of Yahoo.

Tom goes on to note that even Jeremy Zawodny finds some of the SMO approaches to be slightly queasy.

Tom's talking about 'PR people' but this is PR in the SMO sense. In particular, a comment from keeneypr got his goat - and rightly so.
Our job is to get even "challenging" people like you to write, say and/or do what our clients and companies want -- of your own volition -- and not even realize that you're doing it. If you are telling us that you only want information from people whose views you like and trust, then we'll just reach you through them and you'll never be the wiser.

Talk about smug confidence, huh?

The thing is - Coates is smart. He will realise when he is being 'optimised'.

Most of the blogs you care about are written by smart people. These smart people will have either made the decision to accept influence (often in return for a goodie or two) or will, like Coates, reject it.

So, am I against Social Media Optimisation?

No. I actually like it. I like it because it works, because it represents one of the evolutionary paths that Search Marketing is taking as our discipline begins to take over from traditional marketing and I like it because we get to work with smart people like Tom Coates1.

The issue with Social Media Optimisation (other than the word 'optimisation') is that it is new and we are learning.

I believe that we have ethical social media optimisation and unethical social media optimisation. An example of 'unethical social media optimisation' could be something as a false review or as something as malicious as faked complaints.

I think we will also see aggressive social media optimisation and polite social media optimisation. It's the aggressive social media optimisation that, I think, pisses Tom Coates off. Aggressive SMO is bombarding key influencers with press releases or shelling blogs with a never ending rain of sycophantic comments. Polite SMO is the willingness to come forward and invite conversion, to rate key bloggers as highly as key journalists, a quick response time to issues on the web, openness, community insight, trust networks and I'm sure we can find time for some influence diagrams too.

I predict that we'll see some division over which works best - aggressive or polite. My natural inclination is to favour polite. I suspect it'll work better and piss less people off.

One thing is for certain - if "PR experts" are commenting that they're getting you to say what they want and that you'll never be the wiser - then the SMO/online PR community still has a lot to learn.

1 I don't actually work with Tom Coates.

Will MIVA cope on GaydarNation?

Just skimming today's press releases and found one from Giuliana Rubinia over at MIVA announcing that they've secured a deal to place cost-per-click content ad units across the GaydarNation portal and sites.

It's an interesting deal. As you might expect, Gaydar's sites are strongly themed. They're an example of what some people call an "uber-theme" or "site-theme".

You can imagine that the contextual network search engines would try and place "holiday", "cheap flights", "hotels", etc, etc, ads on any article about booming tourism in London.

What about on Gaydar?

Would ideal solution for search engine, publisher and advertiser would be for adverts for gay holidays to be contextually matched to London tourism content on Gaydar?

What if that match comes at the expense of "flight" adverts? Or "London sightseeing" adverts? Or "car hire"?

The question is how much should the Gaydar site's theme influence the topic of any given page.

MIVA beat Yahoo to this pitch. The larger the advertisers inventory then the easier it is to explore answers to the question above and use click analysis to help decide. Certainly Yahoo would seem to have a much larger inventory than MIVA.

Trevor Martin of QSoft (who own Gaydar) has said that MIVA showed good understanding of the brief and were willing to customise the look and feel of their ads to match GaydarNation.com's design.

Well done to MIVA for the win. Let's wait and see how well they do in targeting adverts to the site.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Paid link, again

Thank you! I was beginning to worry that I was the only one.

When I hear arguments for paid links they are always about “what’s fair” or “what Google should do”. None of them seem to admit or take on board what Google is *actually doing*

Can you imagine trying to defend link buying in a year. Can you imagine saying, “Sure, I knew Google was against [it], I didn’t think it was fair so I kept on doing it?” That’s crazy to me. It’s twice as crazy as Google is also telling us to concentrate on content. Spend the money on content.

That was my comment to John Andrew's write up of Search Engine Strategies with Matt Cutts. It was a cathartic comment to write. It's a good blog to read.

Hat tip to Lyndon of Cornwall SEO and Sphinn for the find. Watch Lyndon's post at Sphinn. He has a knack for finding the good ones.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The SEO doodle

I thought I'd check what the SERPs looked like here in Munich. Look what I spotted in the number #1 AdWords position. Technically this is an invalid AdWord creative as it is a spelling error. Nevertheless, I bet it's in the top position because it enjoys many curious clickers.

An attempt to trademark the word "seo"

I'm about to fly off to our office in Munich but a blackberry scan picked out an interesting email that I've not had time to fully investigate.

What do you do when you don't have time to investigate something as thoroughly as you need to? You blog about it! Okay... that sounds crazy, but that's what I'm doing anyway.

This email alerts me to the fact that a UK company is trying to trademark the word "seo". Actually, they're trying to trademark the phrase "se,o" but the emailer is concerned that the styling is so subtle that the danger is it will apply to standard fonts and therefore the standard phrase.

Here's the link to the trademark request.

The email says there is only until the 30th of August to protest.

What do you think? A legitimate email? A legitimate concern?

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

200 billion pages

I'm just reading through a patent application on how a search engine could build a primary and secondary index based on phrases rather than keywords.

In the introduction the author (who we can safely place at Mountain View) estimates that there are currently 200 billion pages on the Internet today. She says the best search engines only index between 6 and 8 billion pages.

What a difference, huh? Statistically your home page and this blog post has between a 3% and 4% chance of being indexed by a search engine.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Social Media success at Cadbury?

If this is a success - it's one of the biggest successes I've seen in the social media landscape.

Cadbury is due to bring back their famous 1980s chocolate bar - the Wispa.

Brand Republic has coverage and is citing social network pressure (sub needed).

The lobbying on Facebook and MySpace resulted in a 14,000 people "Bring Back Wispa" group. You can find Wispa archive adverts such as this one for Wispa Gold (which lasted longer than Wispa itself) on YouTube.



I think this is an interesting move from Cadbury. Sure, the collective voice of Wispa fans on the net is strong but is it enough to support a whole product line? There are more than 14,000 news agents in the UK and so the Bring Back Wispa group could equate to less than one chocolate bar being sold from every other shop in the UK. That wouldn't be a success. On the other than, as a public sample survey the 14,000 figure is huge.

This move follows Proctor and Gamble pulling their internet ad campaigns and blaming poor metrics for online. P&G don't sell products to you and me. P&G sell products to the likes of ASDA and Tesco. When P&G advertise on the TV they're doing that to encourage us to go to the shops and ask for P&G products. Cadbury is in the same boat; they don't sell their chocolate bars directly to us, they advertise so that we demand their chocolate from retailers and it is the retailers who then buy from Cadbury.

P&G picked up a lot of criticism for their move to stall their online efforts. I suspect they were not prepared for how vocal the net community is. They also seemed to be slightly shaky in their understanding of where TV is going (IPTV or V+, anyone?).

P&G may being Luddite about online and Cadbury may being progressive - but we're yet to see who's right.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Paid Links and AdSense are not the same

One of the infuriating defenses those supporting paid links use is to compare paid links to AdSense. The next step is to criticize Google from influencing how you monetise your site.

Just to be clear; AdSense is a combination of JavaScript and iframes. The presence of AdSense on your site does not effect the PageRank or the search positions of the sites displayed on the advert.

I don’t think I’ve seen people object to what Google considers spam before.

People do not object to Google calling white text on white background spam. Why would they? No one pays webmasters to put white text on white backgrounds so perhaps that’s the issue. People don’t even object to avoiding light greys on white or dark greys on black.

The money is clearly an issue. The fact that you can get money from selling links means that the paid link issue is entirely separate from hidden text.

That said, I wonder if the people who are happy to sell links would be happy to take money to hide text on their site or sell hidden links on their site. I doubt it – they would be risking their own site and that is not a risk they would be willing to take. However, I suspect we wouldn’t hear the defense “Google can’t penalise me for monetizing my site!”.

People made money from linkfarms. They were advert supported. I’ve not seen anyone object to Google cracking down on linkfarms. Why not? I suspect this is because linkfarms came and went long before many of today’s popular SEOers were in the industry. Heck. Search engine optimisation wasn’t even an industry back then. Back then we did not a “blogoscope” large enough to let people voice their collective dissatisfaction or even gain kudos for being outspoken about their dissatisfaction.

Paid links did work. Paid links were a toy that people had. Paid links were a toy that made money. Google’s now taken that toy away and that’s why people are upset.

I can see why people are upset. I can sympathise as well. I can sympathise to a point. Trying to compare paid links to AdSense confuses the issue.

Paid links without nofollow are simply there to try and influence search engine rankings. They are.

Paid links with nofollow must be there for the traffic. Paid links with nofollow do not influence search rankings.

AdSense is there for the traffic. AdSense does not influence search rankings.

Do you know what? I won’t be liked for this post. It’s probably a good time to point out that my I Support Nofollow campaign as been running since January. The campaign has only one signature so far: mine.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Copywriting

I was trying to come up with an easy way for a client to express the paradigm shift that copywriters face when they are used to writing for traditional media have start to writing for the web. I came up with this:

When you're writing for paper you want to inspire your readers to think.

When you're writing for the web you want to avoid forcing your readers to think.

What do you think? Too mild? Too marketing-talk?

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

IAB's Search Marketing Code of Conduct

Here in the UK the Internet Advertising Bureau has published their first Search Marketing Code of Conduct.

The plan is to expand on it. Right now the Code has four main points. The IAB have given firms until the end of the year to meet each one of them (if they don’t then they don’t get to display the IAB’s Search Marketing Code of Conduct badge).

The agency must have two or more dedicated employees for search marketing and they must have Google Professional Accreditation.

The agency must have been trading for six months and be a member of one of the following: IAB UK, IAB Europe, the Direct Marketing Association, the Search Engine Marketing Professionals Organisation or the Association of Business to Business Agencies.

In addition to expanding the Search Code of Conduct the IAB have plans to extend this to affiliate marketers and trademarketing issues in search marketing.

There is news coverage at Brand Republic and I expect NMA will get it in print shortly. I expect Search Engine Land and WebProNews will pick this up too. I'll add the hyperlinks as/when that happens.

So, what do you think? Will search agencies rush to qualify for the IAB's new logo? Is this a boost for SEMPO?

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Faceball - Google has no balls

This Faceball video is quite fun.



Even if it is just to hear Yahoos John Allspaw and Dunstan Orchard say that Google doesn't have the balls for Faceball.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

SEO in Scotland

Yep. That's right. I'm from Scotland and live in Scotland. In fact, I've just bought my first wee flat down near Edinburgh's Shore district.

It takes me about an hour to fly down to London. I do this once or twice a week. That's not bad for a commute at all. I was talking to a Google Manager today who takes an hour every morning to reach her desk in Google's Manchester office.

In today's marketing world distance really isn't an issue. We have email. We have phone and internet conferences. Oh, we certainly have voip and Skype too. I find communicating and meeting with clients based in London and even New York is easy.

One thing to note about Scotland is how strong it is for SEO. There are quite a few agencies, blogs and names worth noting. If we had an SEO World Cup - then Scotland would do very well.

I particularly enjoy keeping an eye on Scottish SEO blogs. It's pleasing to see that we ride the curve. Two in particular, Paul Steven and his North South Media blog and Shaun Anderson's Hobo SEO blog keep my attention. In fact, the battle for 'Scottish SEO' terms is so fierce among the locals that Paul keeps tally of how well people are doing.

The other thing to note about Scotland is that we have our own notes. We use Pound Sterling like the English, Northern Irish and Welsh but print our own folding money. It's perfectly legal to spend it in England... just be prepared to battle with London taxi drivers!

While I'm on the subject of SEO hubs in the UK I'd have to mention Brighton of course. There's an unusual collection of good (some not so good!) SEO firms and bloggers down there too.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Thoughts on Facebook and its advertisers

The Facebook fallout picked up speed and import over the weekend. I'm glad I got to it on Friday.

The UK's Central Office of Information has also decided to pull its ads from Facebook and social networking sites [sub required, Will Cooper story].

They don't say this is just because of the British National Party issue on Facebook but that's the implication. That's an interesting one because the COI is a government body and the BNP is, in theory, a legitimate political party.

The BNP will argue that it's not racist. In my opinion and in my definition of racism I find the BNP's policies to be racist. (Once again; my opinion.) For my American readers (I know I've some :P I've seen rustybrick and Lisa Barone on MyBlogLog) the BNP would ship foreigners out of the United Kingdom, the darker your skin the more quickly you would find yourself on the boat.

It shows just how unviable the BNP is as an election option if government bodies like the COI do not want to be associated with them.

It shows how bad for the economy it would be if the BNP makes inroads in the election if important companies like Vodafone do not want to be associated with them.

Anyway, back to Facebook. The onus is now on them (and other social sites) to try and apply some sort of filtering. This will be tricky. Filtering based on keyword content is possible ... but filtering based on principles? I wouldn't be that pleased to see adverts for any of my creations appearing beside Creationist propaganda or militant Scottish Independent content. I have no objections to adverts appearing in conjunction with religious or political content, though.

I think the advertisers are in a better position. Look at all this publicity!

If we were advising The AA, First Direct, etc, then I would encourage them back on to Facebook.

I would encourage them to run a banner campaign specific to Facebook, one that mentioned Facebook in the display and perhaps alongside like "Find out why Vodafone advertises on Facebook".

The banner points to a page which quickly surmises Vodafone's equal opportunities, ethical stance, beliefs and other positive light and brand building content. (Using Vodafone as the example here).

This page would then say, briefly, that they support social sites and value consumers who have something to say and something to share online. That's the chance to get to the reader and make them think "Hey, that's me! They think I'm smart. They like me." That's a good message to get into the head of a would-be customer.

As I'm search bias, I would also try and make this page even more linkbait than it already is (right now it would be publicity linkbait). I would go to include something like an electronic petition which readers can sign or email the link to a friend to ... well, whatever works best, a) anti-racism, b) pro-consumer, etc. Alternatively, the page could give a way badges (static widgets) that simply conveyed a positive message (All humans are equal, etc) and the badge/widget would link back to this page.

A key here would be to see how much of this "special campaign" that the brands could get free or discounted from Facebook. That would certainly add to the ROI. That's why including a pro-Facebook message would certainly help.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Webmaster Console Down

Google's Webmaster Console seems to have been struggling to quickly verify sites all week.

Right now I would say that 80% of sites in this particular interface aren't verifying when they should be.

It's strange how Google sometimes struggles with things like this. The early Froogle was absolutely awful for grinding to a halt. Blogger, too, has had its fair share of problems.

Orkut, bless it's heart, has the honour of being the least stable Google offering.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Fascists on Facebook and the fallout - brands drop their Facebook campaigns

The NMA [sub] has a story today that big brands have their banner ads appearing alongside the British National Party (BNP) group on Facebook.

The BNP is a far right extremist party. Vodafone and the bank First Direct have already had all their ads removed.

As you can imagine neither Vodafone nor First Direct are very happy. The NMA has this quote from First Direct:

When you book into a network you can specify categories you don't want to appear alongside, including racism, but you can't give specific pages [...] we will be contacting our media agency about this particular page and getting it to remove the ads.

Rob Horler, MD of the advertising superpower Isobar struck an interesting and rather savvy tone on the whole issue. He said;
You either don't advertise on Facebook or you do and are prepared to accept that the ads could appear on inappropriate content [...] There is no guarantee on this and anyone spending more than five minutes on the site knows this. Brands need to remain mindful.

I think Horler is right. If you are going to venture out into social media then this sort of thing is going to happen... but it's a measured risk. You should (your agency should) be in the position to detect and react quickly though. In this case the appropriate reaction may well be to "whatever it takes to ensure my brand does not appear beside the BNP!"

PageRank

Link Popularity vs. PageRank vs. Yoda

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

What Google hides from us... for our own good?

Google's intention is to index the world's information. The assumption has always been that they would then share that with us.

Yesterday Google stopped reporting when a URL was in the main index or the supplemental index.

Perhaps Google stopped showing the supplemental label because webmasters and SEOrs freak out when one of their URLs are labeled as such.

Google withholding data so we don't freak out? There could be a trend for that.

  • Google could keep the PageRank toolbar data up to date - but chooses not to.
  • Google could keep the link: command up to date (or even accurate) - but chooses not to.
  • Google could keep the Google Directory up to date - but chooses not to.
The reason for this, according to an experimental post from Matt Cutts, is that Google noticed too many SEOs were suffering from "B.O." or backlink obsession.

It's great that Google publishes this data at all. It's all Google's data. They don't have to share it. However, it's slightly irking that I can't have the freshest data available.

Google also cracked down on synonym mining. Previously it had been possible to combine the minus (-) operator with the tilda (~) synonym operator in order to dig up "just synonyms" for words. For example, [-search ~search] would have listed (and highlighted) those words which Google saw as synonymous for "search". This technique does not work today and that's because Google didn't like SEOrs mining the data.

I suppose you could argue that Google once again took the "for your own good - we're withholding this data" approach.

One thing is for certain and that's the SEO community tends to get its knickers in a twist over loosing information like this. I'm sure dire warnings of the supplemental index were in the sales patter of a few SEO companies (again, perhaps it's a good thing Google's reduced its emphasis on the second index… perhaps not).

One of our Search Techies replied to the internal announcement about the death of the supplemental label with the following comment. And I agree.
The webmaster community seems to be freaking out about not being able to identify pages which are supplemental. Its fairly easy though if you look at a couple of cached timestamps. Takes a bit of monitoring but even still.

IMHO The supplemental index is one of Google's biggest failings. A below average response to make the best of a tough situation of crawling capacity.