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Thursday, February 23, 2006


The above linked press release from SES NYC show producer, Incisive Media emphasizes the big money in search ADVERTISING or Search Engine Marketing or SEM market in announcing the Search Engine Strategies (SES) show in New York next week. Touting dramatic numbers in the billions of dollars and quoting from studies that confuse, rather than clarify spending in the market - the clear emphasis is a sort of "Oh BOY, Oh BOY! There's big money in this game we're playing in!" rather than the importance of organic search to global marketing.

To be sure, there is big money in the search game, but it's a bit frustrating to see an emphasis placed so strongly in this press release on the "Search Engine Marketing" or "SEM" aspect of the conference and nearly complete disregard for the organic Search Engine Optimization or "SEO" aspect of the industry.

The actual SES show session chart makes me feel better about the real emphasis placed on organic search by Danny Sullivan and the SES conference managers. A quick scan of planned topics and tracks on the event calendar shows organic receiving complete and effective coverage.

But doesn't promotion of a show affect attendance, media attention and public participation in the show? SEO's will attend those sessions that help them expand their skillset and extend their overall knowledge of organic search. But those dazzled by the dollars, including the media covering the show, will look all starry eyed at those SEM spending stats and not enough at the SEO effectiveness stats.

I guess it means SEO's will continue to have a powerful role in the search industry, but will continue to be seen as black magic practicing wizards using voodoo and potions to achieve dramatic results for clients who value SEO. But the clearer ROI from columns of numbers controlled by SEM's is easier to quantify and understand.

That means that, eventually, more attention will be paid to Click Fraud Sessions until the dollars spent on SEM exceed acceptable conversion numbers in those ROI calculations. Then, unless search engines find enough incentive to effectively battle click fraud in PAID SEARCH, attention will rightly move to organic SEO. I'm really grateful that SEO flies under the radar to keep out the bad guys in black hats

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Don't be a DIP - SEO You Don't Know

I read and participate in several email discussion lists. The following is an exchange I had with another list member that is relevant to SEO and a common misunderstanding with web site owners unfamiliar with best practices of search engine optimization. I'll leave his name out of this post as I haven't got his permission to use it. But the comments run like so:
I was advised that if I create multiple D.I.P.'s (Directory Information Pages) and submit them twice per month to all search engines that I could be assured of top 20 listings
Your first clue to bad information here is that you were advised to create D.I.P.'s, an acronym probably created by a company that has a large network of D.I.P.'s and makes their living promoting them. They think you are a DIP too - don't fall for it.

Second, there is no need to submit the pages to the search engines. Submissions have been entirely unnecessary for at least the past three years as search engine spiders regularly crawl and re-crawl sites. The more often you add new content (on a regular schedule) the more often the site is re-visited by the crawlers. If you do any type of article marketing, online press release distribution, or blogging - your site will be re-crawled on about the same schedule at which you routinely add that content to your site.

Your post to this list got you a link from the last issue, now posted in the archive and re-crawled often due to frequent updates and high popularity. Submissions are not necessary unless you've never gotten an external link, never add anything new to your site and never do any marketing or posting to discussion lists. Expect the search engines to revisit your site this week because you posted here.

I could be assured of top 20 listings in most of the top 15 search engines
There are four search engines that send 99 percent of referred visitors to your site. The following numbers are drawn from about a dozen client sites I have access to server traffic statistics for. Google - sending an average of 60 to 70 percent of search engine referred traffic, Yahoo - sending an average of 10 to 15 percent of search engine referred traffic, MSN - sending an average of 5 to 7 percent of search engine referred traffic and Ask - sending an average of less than 1 percent of all search engine referred traffic.
... and top 10 in the second and third tier search engines.
The above four engines are top tier engines, the rest (on any tier) are irrelevant to referral traffic. Is there any reason you can think of to pay even the slightest bit of attention to search engines that refer less than 1 percent of your traffic? Second and third tier engines could rank you #1 and send dribbles and drips of 2 or 3 visitors, sometimes, on a good day, if you are lucky, maybe.
Also that the higher the number of D.I.P.'s, the higher the ranking.
Yes, DIP ranking. Forget the DIP's.
This seems a little too good to be true to me.
There you go, you knew all along.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Dot Info (.info) Domain TLD - New Spammer Haven?

Dot info (.info) domain tld's appear to be the new domain of search engine spammers since there is an apparent lack of Google aging delay to list and rank them. They are listed relatively quickly after first crawl by the search engines and are ranking well for some competitive terms. The sleaze monsters among search engine sp*mmers are using software to automate four separate areas, content gathering, article creation, article distribution and blog posting. Some may be using all four techniques in concert in an effort to blanket hundreds of sites with article content in order to slap up Google Adsense or Yahoo Publisher Network Ads.

Various types of thieving goes on in this seamy underbelly of automated search engine sp*m. Recently, "pre-loaded" content sites are being sold by a software developer with articles built-in to sites covering 150 topic areas for $100, or at $10 for individual topics, allowing setting up "Adsense Ready" article sites containing keyword focused content categories obtained from "Free-to-use" articles sites, against clearly posted author terms of use.

Those usage terms posted by authors and on article distribution sites universally prohibit use of those "free-to-use" articles in paid compilations, membership sites or any "for-profit" collections. Some authors are expanding their terms of use to exclude usage by specific networks. Previous slime merchants have avoided copyright lawsuits by giving away those articles with paid software purchases. I'd be surprised if authors didn't find some way to band together to sue those who abuse their terms of use in this way.

Authors have worried over a "duplicate content penalty" when their articles are distributed for use by other web sites. It's extremely unlikely that this type of use will lead to penalties for the author web site, linked from resource boxes of those articles of original content. The likely application of duplicate content penalties comes, interestingly when used in exactly the same way by those clueless purchasers of "pre-loaded" sites with precisely duplicated site structure and precisely the same articles AND RSS feeds that won't vary. Those that use these mirrored sites are the ones that will suffer that duplicate content penalty as they are mirrored sites, which have been filtered for years. Lazy buyers of "pre-loaded" articles sites will be the only ones to receive penalties from the search engines.

In another slimy aspect of this odd netherworld of search engine spam, article gathering site crawlers use IP spoofing which imitate search engine IP addresses to hide themselves within routine traffic on those sites they crawl, trolling the web looking for articles to steal and use in splogs and pre-loaded web site kits. These crawlers hit pages slowly seeking sitemaps or author index pages, grab URL's to return later under different IP's and pound away at 10 pages per second or more, grabbing articles from major sites against posted terms of use on those sites. The crawlers usually belong to hosted services which then sell these scraped article collections in SQL databases. Some even offer site subscribers feeds of this stolen content after running it through new article regurgitating software.

This sleazy article theft software product, which takes already written copyrighted articles by other authors, re-orders paragraphs, swaps out interchangable verbs, rearranges sentences and spits out a fairly readable, and sometimes passable article which may not be recognizable to original authors. These stolen, regurgitated articles are then submitted to article banks and distribution sites by splog creators, sometimes using automated submission software or hosted services, so those stolen, regurgitated articles are used across the web to create inbound links leading to the search engine sp*m sites.

Many of these .info domain owners are using sleazy sp*m blog software to create what has become known as "splogs" which use multiple blogging platforms to create automatically updated blogs with posts made regularly in some random time sequencing. They do this to appear to be active bloggers, using automation built into their software, to create keyword focused posts via RSS feeds coming from keyword phrase centered news searches and then "ping" the blog search engines with new automated posts. Depending on the sophistication of the splog owner, you'll often see footer links leading to other splogs they operate on separate topics.

Virtually all of the .info domains I've seen ranking in top results for competitive phrases are entirely Adsense or YPN sites - including splogs, full of autogenerated RSS news feeds and on-the-fly generated title tags and H1 tags based on the search phrase used to find the site. Even the copyright information in the footer of some of these sites is generated on-the-fly to match search queries. While this technique is also being used by some search engine sp*mming .com sites (older than 1 year since creation to avoid aging delay) it can be seen in more .info domains currently.

If Google is truly ranking sites based on clickstream data, imagine the abuses these dynamic spam sites, full of nothing but RSS feeds or stolen, regurgitated content could spawn! Soon they would rule the results pages because they reflect EXACTLY the search terms used by the searchers, which leads to higher click-through ratios, which generates higher rankings. I see a serious hole for abuse here and hope that the PhD's at Google work out a filter for the technique fast.

This exact match landing page idea is used widely in pay-per-click campaigns as most savvy SEM specialists highly recommend landing pages which reflect exact matches to user clicks because it leads to higher conversion ratios. Perhaps a programmer who spends his days creating PPC landing page scripts is spending his nights creating .info domains with dynamic page title and metadata for competitive search phrases to rule organic SEO?

Of course, whois ownership information is masked by many recent .info domain owners, since those domains were purchased specifically for se-sp*mming sites. When looking up the whois information on highly ranking .info domains to check creation (purchase) dates, you'll see a preponderance of October through December 2005 creation dates, with a smattering of January 2006 created sites for those well ranked splogs. This must be about the time that spammer forums started noticing and discussing the lack of aging delay for .info domains.

Whois information for dot com (.com) sites ranking well for competitive searches shows that ALL are over a year old and most are 3 to 5 years since creation date.

All of this suggests clear algorithmic aging filters and the apparent lack of .info filtering. My thought is that Google is using this lack of aging delay and lack of filtering as a honeypot for search engine sp*m to gather the bad boys all in one otherwise rarely used tld and then do wide sweeps, tracing their tactics to further filter (forgive me for using the term) Black Hat techniques.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Search Engine Conversion Rates Bogus

New WebSideStory Study Reveals Conversion Rate for Each Major Search Engine Here we go again with bogus numbers and so-called "conversion rates" studies without looking at ROI. In a laughable footnote, WebSideStory notes quietly:
Study examines only the conversion rate, not the ROI generated by each major search engine
So why is conversion percentage relevant when total numbers of search engine REFERRED visitors is not included in the calculations of conversion percentages? The entire thing becomes absurd once total numbers of referrals within specific time frames are known.

I'm horrible at math, but fortunately I have a calculator on my computer here. It tells me that if Google sends 100 visitors to those sites in this study, almost 4 of them buy something. Whereas AOL gets more than 6 people buying something for every 100 that come from that search engine.

We'll forget for a moment that those searches are actually still done on Google servers.

Now those 6 AOL visitors took about 10 times as long to show up on the retailers sites from AOL searches because Google sends easily ten times the referred traffic as AOL. My numbers are telling me that, in the same amount of elapsed time, Google sent 400 buyers and AOL sent 6 buyers.

Hmmm, I think the conversion percentage is kinda irrelevant once the time factor is considered. It would take AOL about 66 times as long to convert at that better rate - ONCE THEY SHOW UP. They trickle in from AOL at a rate equivalent to a faucet drip, while Google sends a blast of visitors at a full flow rate.

It makes me crazy each time these "studies" are done which measure things nearly superfluous to ROI and the bottom line. I believe WebSideStory is looking for a little favor from AOL - or perhaps a little cash? MSN is right behind AOL as usual, in this silly "study" which has no concept of time or volume, and purposely ignores ROI by their own admision.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

SEO Contest Makes Wall Street Journal

SEO Contest Commentary from Lee Gomes at the Wall Street Journal today. This is quite interesting for it to make news at this level and indicates how corporate America is realizing that SEO exists. Again, I'm glad to see references to good guys and bad guys (both types are discussed and several of each named - albeit without assigning those named to their appropriate shade) in a parenthetical aside:
(As they ply their trade, SEOs are known to employ a mix of "white hat," or licit, and "black hat," or highly questionable, methods.
But I'm happy the distiction continues to be made in major press outlets and that SEO's come in multiple hues of ethics. I hope it occurs to more companies to enquire of SEO ethics upon hiring us to work on removing barriers to ranking of their web sites.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

BMW given Google 'death penalty'

BBC NEWS - BMW given Google 'death penalty' This story has been making the rounds of SEO/SEM forums and newsletters for the past couple of days, since Matt Cutts posted about it in his SEO blog on February 4th. At first there was little international press (and none in the US) on the issue, but the BBC story has started a landslide of news and commentary on search engine spam by major corporations. It is also likely to brand SEO's universally as bad guy Black Hat SEO's and ignore the good guy White Hats. Legitimate techniques and resulting ranking improvements rarely gain the attention given the bad guys.

I've reported major Fortune 500 corporations for spamming through the Google spam reporting link a half dozen times over the past year and am happy to see actions being taken against the worst offenders.

BMW Germany targeting the term "Used Cars" on it's new car site using javascript redirects is a blatant abuse of doorway pages and cloaking for inappropriate search phrases.

Cutts shows screen captures of the BMW offense, but mentions only peripherally that would be banned as well, then sends a direct message to a separate US automaker at the end of his spamming post, telling them that they'll be re-included following a 30 day ban for similar offenses they've apparently cleaned up from their European site.

Search engine spamming is certainly not limited to Europe, although one of my complaints to the Google spam reporting link is for a European company site, which 5 months after reporting, STILL ranks #1 for a highly competitive phrase in US results by using different search engine spamming techniques employing invisible code full of links, H1 tags and keyword phrases which are intended for surfers with javascript turned off - the < noscript> tag. Search engines see this invisible text, while surfers don't as it is buried in the HTML code.

The home page of one site I reported for spamming is made up entirely of images and has no hope of ranking well for any search phrase from the home page due to complete lack of text, so they may feel justified in using < noscript> tags to rank for an admittedly appropriate search phrase, by using a technique recognized as search engine spamming. When any large corporation sees fit to use spamming techniques, it encourages EVERYONE to do the same, simply because they feel justified for whatever reason suits them, ethical or not.

This lesser known technique, filling < noscript> tags with H1, tags, keyword phrase hypertext links, and invisible text within tags, is effective and is used by many spammers. I believe that smaller offenders would be instantly banned if this were discovered in use on their site, even if they were using appropriate keyword phrases for their topic or site subject. The big boys should be penalized as well.

I'll feel better when ALL search engine spamming techniques are penalized equally, regardless of the technique used or terms targeted, or any rationalized justifications. When that happens universally, then spammers will stop spamming the search engines. But not until then.

This BMW case has become high profile for a major offense and is likely to gain attention in hurriedly called meetings in boardrooms of major corporations, with webmasters and marketing departments in attendance. "Are we doing this!" CEO's will rage at befuddled webmasters or in-house SEO's. But until ALL methods of search spam are penalized publicly, those lesser offenses will continue at all levels - especially large companies with more to gain (when they get away with spamming) and/or lose (when they get caught and exposed).

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Google in Newspaper Copyright Dispute

Newspapers take aim at Google in copyright dispute - Internet - "DUBLIN (Reuters) - A group representing global newspaper publishers has launched a lobbying campaign to challenge search engines like Google that aggregate news content. The move comes as the newspaper industry's traditional business model is under pressure with advertising spending shifting away from print and toward the internet. The Paris-based World Association of Newspapers, whose members include dozens of national newspaper trade bodies, said it is exploring ways to 'challenge the exploitation of content by search engines without fair compensation to copyright owners'."
I think this little storm will rage in it's teapot until newspapers admit to the internet changing their landscape. Blaming Google for the internet won't wash as they have yet to pay attention to bloggers who do the same thing. The tiny little detail that they don't notice is that news aggregators and bloggers lead to a dramatic upswing in their readership and exposure.

How backward and insular can you get? Newspapers have recognized that classified advertising is dying due to the better reach an lower cost (often free) of internet classified advertising or free sites like the regional editions of Craigslist. There is literally nothing they can do to stop the web from becoming the news source for the world.

If nobody knows about a newspaper web site discussing matters of interest to them, how do they find it? A search engine. Blocking those search engines from indexing or listing their content is extremely simple. All newspaper webmasters must certainly know that they can easily stop search engines from indexing their content simply by placing robots.txt files on their server telling search engine bots and crawlers to stay out. If they don't want to be indexed, put up that magic little text file telling Google news to stay out. No problem.

Google news makes no money from its news site currently. No ads appear there and no links to anything other than those news stories exist on the page. What could the objection be to a search engine sending far more traffic to a newspaper web site?