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Sunday, October 04, 2009

Duplicate Content Concerns Adressed by Google's Grothaus

Greg Grothaus of Google Webmaster Central team gives the ultimate Duplicate Content presentation which should clear up the vast majority of questions surrounding dupe content from webmasters. 14 minutes spent here will resolve a lot of concerns by webmasters and resolve questions for a few of those dual SEM/SEO types in which the SEM is the larger part of their split personality.

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Google Caffeine Real-Time, Fresh, Fast,

Matt Cutts discusses the new Caffeine Sandbox with Michael MacDonald at Search Engine Strategies Show in San Jose. Good stuff to pay attention to, since Cutts suggests that "power users" might notice differences in the rankings between the current default search and Caffeine.

Here's a suggestion I'd like to make for your testing if you do decide to check it out - play with the "Filter by Date" option in the left rail which appears on the current page if you click "options" on Google's current results page. For that matter, I'd like to suggest that many of the "options" may find their way into the standard results you get from that new SandBox.

I think they may have already released many of the tweaks in that recently released UI, but found few people using them in that form. So rather than requiring everyone to make choices (or maybe making some of the most "popular" choices already ranked from testing) the Caffeine option may represent choices made based on testing so far.

Now they want to see if you like those choices once they are baked into the default product. That's my take based on reviews and my own testing. Your mileage may vary and I may be way off base, but it's a good story.

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Monday, August 10, 2009

Google Says Faster is Better - SEO Element?

Just stumbled across this video this morning, even though it's been on the Google YouTube channel since June. Probably heard little about it because SEO's pay less attention to speed than developers, but I've always been a fan of accessiblity issues, which SEO's pay too little attention to as well. Speed and accessibility are related because complex web apps like Flash, javascript and other client side apps can get in the way of speed, crawlability and indexing. I believe SEO's should pay more attention to speed.

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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Marissa Mayer Leaving Google? Don't Laugh

There are reports that Marissa Mayer is leaving Google. Barry Schwartz commented briefly about it today on SearchEngineLand and he points to a report coming from Valleywag yesterday. I've heard Mayer speak at Search Engine Strategies (SES) San Jose in August of 2007 where I took a few photographs of her conversation with Danny Sullivan, below. (Click the image for more photos)


She seemed personable and intelligent there as she discussed Google search and displayed the iPhone interface on her phone. I've briefly mentioned her comments in a post on "previous Query Refinement" but don't recall hearing much from her elsewhere.

To get a better idea of what google is losing if she does indeed depart, I took a look at a video of her presentations at Google I/O Developer conference 2008. Here's that hour long presentation if you have time for it:

It's often odd to see executives leave successful companies, knowing that they have made major, substantial contributions to the shape of that success. The video above is a great way to become familiar with what Google is losing.

Gawker apparently wants to poke with the sharpest stick and they focus on her personal fortune as the 19th employee of the startup, fresh out of Stanford and her laugh! The laugh does surface a time or two in her I/O conference presentation above, but seems endearing and humanizing there.

Google is apparently about to lose a big talent. I've often wondered why people leave startups after they go public - those who help to build the vision over time. Sergei and Larry are clearly not serial entrepreneurs. They are staying. Is Mayer on the way out?

UPDATE: Turns out she isn't leaving. Still there as of April 1st. Maybe it was an early April fools joke played on Google by Valleywag?

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Monday, November 17, 2008

Google Mobile Voice App Live: iTunes App Store

Just saw that the google Mobile App is live on the iTunes store. Even though it isn't apparently available as an update through the Application itself. Problem is that the link here doesn't work through the iPhone itself. Grrrrr. Have to wait until I get home to download and test it.

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Friday, November 14, 2008

Google iPhone App Gets Voice Search Upgrade

A New York Times article this morning breaks the story of an upgrade to the Google Search iPhone App, to be released today (and a Twitter Post from CNet last night).

If the app works anywhere near as well as the Google Demo Video below, the search world may be turned on it's ear, or maybe we'd say, it's voice.

Can't wait to try this, and although I've tried, via the iTunes App Store, to find this app or get the upgrade to my current version of the Google Search App, it's not showing up in either place yet. Stay tuned and I'll post the iTunes App Store link as soon as I find it working.

Update from TechCrunch says the App will appear on tomorrow, Monday October 17th.

Just saw via VentureBeat that the google Mobile App is live on the iTunes store. Even though it isn't apparently available as an update through the Application itself. Problem is that the link here doesn't work through the iPhone itself. Grrrrr. Have to wait until I get home to download and test it.

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Saturday, November 01, 2008

Search Mexico Vacation Spot: Google Earth iPhone App

World search with Google Earth on iPhone is now possible. I sincerely wish I'd seen this the day before leaving on my vacation cruise to Mexico last week, expecially because I could have overcome some strange GPS issues on my iPhone 3g when checking location while at sea, the iPhone GPS showed me in British Columbia anytime I was aboard the ship from just out of the Port of Los Angeles to Puerto Vallarta. A quick check with the ship internet cafe manager at the start of my Mexican Riviera cruise got an "I don't know" when I asked why is my GPS showing me in British Columbia while on the ship?

So now Google Earth comes out with an iPhone App, that would have let me enter the latitude and longitude readings showing in the location information on my stateroom television channel. I could have zoomed in on Google Earth from those coordinates to see my location on a map had I downloaded the app before departing Los Angeles Harbor.

Grrr! So I'd still pay the .99 cents per minute international charge on my AT&T bill to view the data, but wouldn't have wasted the time going to the internet cafe each time I wanted to view maps while on-board. Below is a video demo I found at the Google Latlong blog which shows the App in action.

This Google Earth App for iPhone is incredibly cool. It's tied into the "My Location" function of the phone's GPS and shows you where on the earth you are currently when you touch the "Current Location" button in the lower left corner of the iPhone screen. There are interesting tie-ins with the iPhone accelerometer which change the satellite view on the map to let you tilt the phone upright to see the horizon relative to your location, then flat to see the downward view of the map location.

Now comes the search functionality. You can search any business near your current location - or nearby - or in any city you choose. This functionality makes many Apps, like the Where App I use to find Starbucks coffee shops, a bit redundant. Both use your location data via the iPhone GPS, but the Google Earth App brings search, and all the useful Google Earth functionality.

There are Panaramio photos incorporated into the App as well - which lets me post my own photographs to the app after vacation, as well as seeing the photos contributed by others for that location! I'm definitely investing in that eyefi card for my Canon EOS and will be enjoying geek travel on my next vacation via Google Earth, the iPhone, and geolocation of my vacation photos.

Here's my first view of my neighborhood using the
iPhone Screenshot App

iphone screenshot app

and the GPS feature to locate myself in the Google Earth App.

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Thursday, October 09, 2008

SEO Value Attribution Links - Video & Widget Embeds

The value of attribution links on syndicated content is huge for SEO, but as is so often the case in SEO, some go way overboard and overdo to the point of spamming. Others correctly see the value as an incremental addition to their SEO tool set. I've long been an advocate for attribution links on flash widgets, video embeds, article syndication resource boxes and any other type of syndicated content.

Below is an example of a well executed attribution link. On a video embed

How to Search Specific Sites with Google -- powered by

Both of these use keyword focused attribution to the originating source of the content. If the content was unrelated to the keyword text links following those embeds, that would be the abusive and spammy approach I suggested above. The spammy approach has been used widely with web page counters prevalent on early web sites which linked back to spammer sites with entirely unrelated link text. But because the above video embed points to highly relevant and useful resource entirely related to the attribution link, it scores well in SEO.

The best approach is always to link to topical and relevant content, preferably, the source of the actual piece of content featured in order to score well in search engine relevancy and landing page quality.

I used the technique discussed in the video - site limited search - to find a copy of that syndicated content without the attribution link attached to the video player to show syndicated content that does the source no good other than the good-will of sharing their content.

The following gains zero benefit other than an occasional visitor who clicks through:

If anyone uses the second video, directly above, the second source site gains no benefit to providing the content. The top example source site gains a highly relevant link to the originating page of the actual video.

I've consulted with several video and widget vendors who look at me through quizzical sideways tilted gazes when I make this point, like I'm speaking Martian. That attribution link is highly valuable to the content provider. It offers the visitor a link equity to the content source and justifies the content provider bandwidth in delivering that valuable content to others who use the providers resources to display the content external to the provider. Why make your content to others without that link-back?

Here's another example on a widget:

Most Expensive Homes in Seattle

Relevant, interesting and useful information of interest to a highly targeted audience, with an attribution link to related information.

I've proposed this approach to link-building to easily a dozen client sites as they were about to launch major initiatives of distributed content. Most of them think the video or widget is a cool idea and respond to that, but many ask why that attribution link is necessary - a couple even removed it after development because they didn't like how it looked outside the player or widget. Great, now you are providing useful and interesting content - for free - on your bandwidth - with no return on investment - the link is worth it's weight in SEO gold.

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Washington Post Running Old Jerry Yang Search Ads

This is an interesting case of what appears to be a forgotten SEM Campaign at the Washington Post. I've been intrigued by Adwords campaigns which promote newspapers through headline keywords in search ads. Clearly they are meant to gain readership for those publications running the news-focused ads.

Since virtually all major pubs cover big stories like the Yahoo vs Microsoft acquisition fight, it isn't that odd to see search ads run against news. Here's an Adsense ad that popped up on a blog post I wrote pondering why everyone is out to lynch Jerry Yang. The ad simply uses the headline "Jerry Yang" and the copy reads "Yahoo CEO steps down, cofounder takes his place"

Now that isn't so odd that the Washington Post wants to advertise against news, but the odd thing is advertising against OLD NEWS. Did they forget this campaign? Who's managing those ads guys?

My headline on the post that produced that contextual ad was "NY Times as Yahoo Armchair CEO for Jerry Yang" so it is well targeted, just old, since it is currently pointing at the story about Terry Semel stepping down and Yang taking his place - which ran exactly one year ago at the Washington Post.

When I saw the ad, my heart sank, as I'm seriously opposed to Yang stepping down. I hope he displays as much fortitude against the rising tide of opposition to his leadership as he did against the monster Microsoft as they distracted him for 5 or 6 months from running his company. But when I visited the page the ad linked to, I felt relieved since it was inaccurate.

Should it be journalistically acceptable to run ads against news that is completely wrong? Yes, I know if you read it carefully, you'd figure out it's not likely Filo stepping in to fill Yang's shoes - but those ads are not meant to be read carefully - they rely on impulse. My immediate response was "Oh, NO! Say it ain't so!" when I looked at the display URL in the ad and it said

Fortunately, that ad was not what it seemed. But this suggests to me that search ads that are run against news headlines should be VERY carefully managed.

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Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Google News Showing AP & Reuters Video's Inline

Google News showing news video from Reuters and Associated Press video (posted at YouTube) in both search results and on home page.

obama clinton - Google News
Uploaded with plasq's Skitch!

This was apparently announced without fanfare on the Google News Blog back on the 21st of August of 2007. Barry Schwartz blogged about it at SearchEngineLand that same day. Did nobody care about this? I hadn't heard about it until I noticed the little tiny word "video" next to a "+" sign to expand it tonight - over 8 months later. Hmmm. I'm on Google News daily and hadn't seen this before and hadn't heard anyone talking about it.

Clicking through takes you to the AP or Reuters channels at YouTube.

Testing this "How To Video" widget.

more cool how to videos

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Friday, April 11, 2008

Previous Query Refinement vs. Search Pollutants

This morning I saw a Danny Sullivan post from SMX Sydney after interviewed Google's VP of Search Products, Marissa Mayer during the SMX keynote. Sullivan emphasized the importance of Mayer's announcement that "Previous Query Refinement" is coming to web search - after that product had been tested in a limited way on Adwords ads only.

But then today Mediapost also wrote about search privacy concerns voiced by the Center for Digital Democracy in a complaint filed with the FTC back in November of 2006, brought to a head when public comment to FTC's proposed "voluntary guidelines" drew objections by all major players in "behavioral marketing" ad networks . According to MediaPost, Google's comments to the FTC, said:

"We are currently experimenting in our Search service with providing ads based on both the current query and the immediately previous search," Google wrote. "For example, a user who types 'Italy vacation' into the Google search box might see ads about Tuscany or affordable flights to Rome. If the user were to subsequently search for 'weather,' we might assume that there is a link between 'Italy vacation' and 'weather' and deliver ads regarding local weather conditions in Italy."

So while the two issues (web search and Adwords that appear beside those search results) would not BOTH be affected by the FTC "guidelines" it could mean that we would see better search results and worse ads if those "guidelines" are in any way enforced by the FTC against ads, but not natural algorithmic search results.

What an odd position to be in for a privacy advocate like me. While the search results are bound to be better when previous queries are factored into the algorithm, the ads may be off-limits to the same refinement. Hmmm.

A very funny kink in this story from MediaPost is the quote:

Google rival Microsoft, on the other hand, said it supports the FTC's goals and that the proposed guidelines should be extended "to include the full array of online advertising activities."

Umm, yea - poor search results, no worthwhile algorithm from the last place search company MSN Live - who would never use their latest $6 Billion acquisition, aQuantive, to serve behavioral advertising to anyone - right? aQuantive execs had to be moaning in pain when they saw their new parent making such statements.

It's bound to be an interesting decision with lawsuits flying in both directions from privacy advocates on one side and ad networks on the other after those "voluntary guidelines" from the FTC are finally handed down.

I really do believe the search results using "Previous Query Refinement" would be better in most cases, for most people. I'll probably like those results sometimes and hate them others. I'll love them when I search for "Restaurant, New York City" and then "Italian food, Theater District" but I'll absolutely hate those results when I'm researching "accounting software" client keywords and decide to switch to my "plastic surgeon" client keywords or a search for a local auto parts store right after doing a medical search query.

Do those of us who search constantly get different types of cookies served for "Previous Query Refinement" searches than say my wife who searches for things only after asking me a tough trivia question or home repair question and I say, "Why don't you Google it?" She does two searches a day at most and I do 50 to 100 daily. Will I need to disable cookies? Sign out of my Google personalized search? How will "Previous Query Refinement" distinguish between those of us who want Unpolluted search results and those who need a helping hand with "Query Refinement?"

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Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Google Adsense Ads Scroller Feature? Why?

Last week I saw a couple of up/down arrows displayed next to the Google Adsense ads on my blog and, curious what it was, I clicked the down arrow - a bit worried that it might count as clicking on my own ads - but the ads simply changed. They changed five times to show different ads and then I could scroll back up through them again. How odd - what good is this to visitors? You know you are looking for a particular advertiser and want to find them? Maybe you are bored and just like studying others ad copy? Hmmm.

Anyway, the feature then disappeared for a week and I didn't see it again. So I kicked myself for not getting a screenshot and moved on. Today I saw it again, but so are others. Has this fully launched?

The first time this was spotted was apparently in December when a couple people on the Webmasterworld forums brought it up. Today there's a bit of buzz on it again.

My question is why?

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Sunday, March 30, 2008

Google SiS (Search in Search) Scares Control Freaks

Google Search-in-Search and a New York Times article titled "New Tool From Google Alarms Sites" has provoked a "startle response" from bloggers, search engine marketers and a few major publishers and online retailers. This all started on March 5th, when Google engineers announced the "Search-in-Search" aka "Teleportation" feature in the official Google Blog. The reasons appear to boil down to three responses to Google:
  1. How DARE you steal my pageviews!
  2. How DARE you sell ads against my brand!
  3. How DARE you claim your search is better than OURS!
Before I get into my thoughts on the matter, here is what that new Google Search Within Search Result looks like for a "NY Times" query:

ny times - Google Search
Uploaded with plasq's Skitch!

Here's how this controversy boils down for me on each of the above three points:

  1. The (weak) argument suggesting that Google is stealing pageviews from publishers who hope to capitalize on page after page of bad internal site search results is like saying - "Hey site user, we think you are an idiot and that you are probably willing to click through page after page of bad search results on our site and will tire of this eventually and click on one or two of our advertisers banners in order to escape the torture." or Bad user experience (most site search sucks and is NOT optimized) equals extra incremental income - so bad user search experience is good for us!
  2. Objection two seems to be some sort of opposition to Google showing competitors ads in their Adwords results. Again saying "User, we think you haven't a CLUE what you wanted when you typed OUR company name into the search box and you may decide to go to our competitors instead. If your competitors Adwords copy is so good that users go there instead of your site and you are not making keyword buys against your own brand - You Deserve to lose the customer!
  3. There has been some discussion of the loss of internally optimized long tail searches which seem to justify point #3 above in the list of objections to "SiS" (Search-in-search) but this objection is only applicable to those VERY few sites that actually have good site search and (even rarer) those who optimize internal search results for EVERY long tail search phrase.

I do happen to agree with everyone who has suggested that this probably should be "opt-in" for those companies that have "SiS" appearing on their brand searches at Google. This suggests though that a) all of those brands are participating in Google Webmaster Central accounts and have verified their pages or b) that "Search-in-Search" be manually turned off and administered by Google (that will only happen with Fortune 100 web companies, if that) appears to be already turned off for Amazon and Ebay.

I believe Google when they say they are doing this to improve user experience, and while it may increase their Adwords income incrementally, I say to Google - Bully for you - and congratulations on, yet again, finding a way to improve the search experience while increasing your own income. Google does not owe anyone more pageviews, and should be allowed to offer tools which increase their income.

To those moaning over lost opportunity and incremental income, I say - Get over yourselves - Your site search sucks and this saves me from doing the standard: " product name" queries I'm always having to do because your internal search is so bad.

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Monday, August 20, 2007

Universal & Blended Search at SES San Jose

The Search Engine Strategies session on Universal and Blended Search was the highlight of the day at SES on Monday. A great panel made up of a cross section of industry luminaries made for stimulating and varied discussion of one of the biggest things to launch in search for years. Panelist Greg Jarboe of SEO-PR suggested that Universal search is a huge development and rivals the Google Florida update.

Jarboe showed some screenshots including recent phrases in the news done NOT at Google News, but at Google standard search. A half dozen examples brought up in various combinations - news story results (with photo thumbnail), videos, photos, blog results, maps, images and onebox results. The position of each of those in the rankings varied, but news and maps were usually nearer the top or at the top, with video results hovering around the middle of the page and blog results, photos (from image search) at the bottom of the page.

While we've heard the term "Google Universal Search" used quite often, this is the first time I've heard it shortened to "G.U.S." Sherwood Stanieri of Catalyst Online followed Jarboe and discussed how universal and blended search affects video in the rankings. In researching how positions in the top 10 results change but show inconsistencies in how their rank was determined by relating those results to pagerank, number of views of those videos and numbers of comments to those videos on social sites and finally, the popularity of the topic searched on.

In Universal search it appears that Google "Hot Topics" (formerly Zeitgeist) is a part of the algo since those topics spiking in popularity will bring up video results more often if they are on that list (and likely photos, news and relevant blog posts).

Bill Slawski of SEO by the Sea was up next and pulled his expected studious dissecting of search patents into the discussion. While I'd love to say I did follow a few of his examples and agree with his conclusions and assertions - I can't outline them effectively here as they seemed to bounce around a bit, pulling bits and pieces out of published patent here and there and back to his own findings, then to search results.

Google engineer David Bailey leads the Universal Search effort and summed up his thoughts on what Universal Search means to SEO by saying "Business as Usual". OK David, I happen to agree, but couldn't you expand a bit? Tim Mayer of Yahoo briefly how Yahoo's Blended search intent was to improve user experience, but to me it appeared that Yahoo intends to do all they can to keep searchers on the Yahoo site, with pop-up windows, shortcuts to the giants of ebiz and exclude all but their own pages from click-throughs. Eric Collier of Ask talked about their new 3D search, and how fewer users moved to page two of results, suggesting better relevancy of page one results.

I'll reiterate what David Bailey had to say "Business as Usual" when it comes to SEO - Google improves results and sends more searchers to relevant sites, Yahoo keeps users on their site and Ask works pretty well, but can't get a handle on a substantial market.

Mike Valentine is an SEO Specialist offering occassional commentary on Search Engine Developments through his Reality SEO Blog and developed WebSite101 Small Business Ecommerce Tutorial in 1999 to help educate the little guy to the intricacies of online business.

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Friday, May 04, 2007

YahooSoft or MicroHoo! How to Beat Google

MarketWatch discussed the merger talks between Microsoft and Yahoo today. The states headline states flatly 'YahooSoft' not enough to take on Google!

That analysis is no doubt galling to both companies. Both have failed to gain significant market share of search, despite what seems like endless acquistions activity by Yahoo and confident Microsoft promises to build their own better system for search.

MSN was stung by Google's winning $3.1 billion bid for DoubleClick last month (even though MSN reportedly made a higher offer) and while Yahoo countered by buying another Ad server, Microsoft counters by offering once again to buy Yahoo. Fact is, neither approach is likely to work to wrest control of market share from Google. My favorite quote from the MarketWatch story is:

"Here are two companies that are bad at the same thing," said Scott Kessler of Standard & Poor's. "With a merger, you get one company still bad at doing that same thing."
Wow, that about sums it up. But what is the solution for the two? It seems odd that the #3 player is talking of buying the #2 player and combined (a generously estimated 38% combined total), their reach would still smaller than the competitor they both want to take on.

I've poked fun of both Yahoo and MSN for years for various reasons, most have to do with a lack of focus or for putting monetization above utility of tools and services and all of their flailing about.

It's simple guys. Build or buy a great service, not a service designed to take market share, not a service you can leverage to beat the competition, not a service that mimics Google - just build something that works well and that you have a passion for. Something that is just too cool and everyone wants to use. Make it popular first, THEN monetize it Are you listening Yahoo? Or is it going to be MicroHoo?

Mike Valentine is an SEO Specialist offering occassional commentary on Search Engine Developments through his Reality SEO Blog and developed WebSite101 Small Business Ecommerce Tutorial in 1999 to help educate the little guy to the intricacies of online business.

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Sunday, April 22, 2007

Fresh News In Google Search Engine Results Pages

Normally I like to write more complete and thorough coverage of search engine developments, but don't have the time to research this one in detail. I'll return to the story as it develops over the next week or so. This one is breaking news from Chris Sherman at Search Engine Land about Google integrating NEWS results into regular Google SERPS.

This could have dramatic implications for those users who either don't know about Google News or simply don't consider going to that other little text link labeled "News" centered above the search box on the google home page.

To see if the news search was working I found a news headline and searched for that line in a regular Google search. The top result was indeed a news story. The top ranking result was a minutes old story showing in regular Google SERPs. Normally this top result would be labeled a "News" result.

Note the special "Earth Day" Google logo which was only showing on Sunday and the April 22 date in green behind the link on a story about New Jersey Governor Corzine's recovery after his car accident a week ago on the way to mediate a meeting between Don Imus and the Rutgers womens basketball team.

Normally, if Google determines your searched phrase is related to current news, it will show a top "onebox" result as below.

This is big news and will likely mean a dramatic increase in traffic to news sites and possibly press releases. I'll revisit the story as it develops during the week.

But wait! There's more! I stumbled across this in that last search for "Virginia Tech Massacre" as I was heading to dinner, so I'll quickly drop this in there as well since it is related. Google adwords are displaying News related PPC ads beside the results! I've split the screen in half so you can see the image full size and clearly see "MSNBC" as the sponsored ad on the right side of the page.

This story broke on Monday, but I hadn't seen it myself until now.

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Saturday, April 21, 2007

Google Plus DoubleClick: Truthiness & Trustiness

The Google Acquisition of DoubleClick has Microsoft and AT&T screeching "Monopoly!" to the US Department of Justice (DOJ) Antitrust division. In a video interview with John Batelle at WebProNews last week, Google CEO Eric Schmidt responded to a comment from Batelle about "anti-competitive practices" by reacting in what seemed like mock surprise. "Microsoft! ... AT&T? ... What year is this?"

Google doesn't control advertising online and DoubleClick won't change that. It will simply give Google access to another segment (display, or graphical) advertising that they didn't have direct access to previously. Just as Google's Dmarc acquisition and the recent ClearChannel deal gives them access to radio advertising. If the DOJ denies the DoubleClick purchase, I'd be shocked.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and others are concerned, on a different front, about privacy issues - because Google will now be able to combine their own powerful tracking abilities (surfing and search query data, along with webmaster and advertiser account holder contact information) with the extensive behavioral targeting abilities and ad tracking details of DoubleClick.

Schmidt suggests simply that they'll keep the information in separate silos. Why should anyone believe that? Stephen Colbert popularized a rarely used word - truthiness to suggest that something can feel true, whether it is or not. Truthiness may apply here - as well as another word that suggests that a company and its' principals can have trustiness. They do. Google has earned that trust in several ways. More on that later.

DoubleClick ignited a firestorm of controversy back in 2000 when they announced plans to merge offline data with online surfing behavior data and email and contact information (physical addresses and phone numbers) of surfers who had viewed and/or clicked on their ads across the web. They resolved that issue by selling off the division of the company that held the "real-world" data.

This all got me thinking about why I trust Google with the information that I didn't trust DoubleClick with. What it all comes down to is that Google has so far lived up to their unofficial corporate mantra of "Don't Be Evil." While it takes more to live up to that motto than putting the words on a web page, Google has actually made moves to demonstrate true adherence to the concept.

Last month they announced that they would, after two years, slightly anonymize the IP addresses they currently use to track queries done through their search function. This followed Google's refusal to turn over data for two months of user search query information to the Department of Justice, when the DOJ demanded that data from MSN, Yahoo, AOL and Google. The others relented - Google stood firm and refused - and won in court.

So even though I believe that Google has way too much information on me already, including search history, financial information (through my Google account), web site stats, physical address and contact info, my personal emails (through Gmail account), and so much more - I trust them so far.

So what's to say they won't some day turn on me, and you, and everyone else and use that extensive data they hold on all of us for evil purposes? Their track record so far says so. Schmidt even comments near the end of that Battelle video interview that Google believes in data portability, so that if we should decide for any reason that we no longer want to use Google services and prefer to take our history and data with us, that they are working on technology that would allow us to move that information from Google to anywhere we choose.

This is another example of why I trust Google and why others do too. They have gone far above and beyond what is necessary and reasonable, to what is right. They are also painfully aware of how fragile their business model is, and that continued profits rely on the trust and support of their users - who can and will easily move elsewhere (now with Google's help apparently) if they lose that trust. The entire business would simply implode on itself. Truthiness is, they can't afford to lose that trustiness. And you can quote me on that!

Mike Valentine is an SEO Specialist offering occassional commentary on Search Engine Developments through his Reality SEO Blog and developed WebSite101 Small Business Ecommerce Tutorial in 1999 to help educate the little guy to the intricacies of online business.

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Friday, April 06, 2007

Marry Me Google! Is it True Love or Commitment?

I've decided to take the plunge and ask Google to marry me. If we ever divorce it will be very painful to extract myself from all the connnections and tie-ins and find replacement services and tools. I know, I know - most will say I'm doing it for the money. I can't deny that the Adsense check every month is nice, but it's not just the money that has me head over heals in love. It's being connected on a deep soul satisfying level.

Webmaster Central shares nearly everything about my web sites with me. It's great to be able to tell the world whatever is on my mind through blogger, and amazing to be able to share photos over my mobile phone to the blog. I can't believe how wonderful it is to search things that are important to me with my multiple Google Custom Search Engines (1) (2) (3). I absolutely love the branded site-search to help me keep my own sites in order and help my visitors find everything they need without leaving my sites. I could never live without that searchable gmail that reminds me all the ways we're connected - and what about that toolbar that shares details about every site I visit?

When did I realize I was hopelessly in love? When a friend convinced me that I should post my photos to (Yahoo owned) Flickr and I immediately wondered if (Google owned) Picasa offered the same type of service. (Not the same, but similar.)

How did we reach this point in our relationship? What makes me so loyal and devoted? Let's start way back in early 2000 when I saw a post at some forum or other asking "What is your Favorite Search Engine?" and at that point, I didn't actually have a favorite - but at least I knew there were lots of choices. So I immediately did a series of searches at Yahoo, Fast, AllTheWeb, AltaVista and a newcomer that had just caught my eye in the past week called Google.

Wow, I was charmed immediately by the speed of the results page! And check out those clean lines, no advertising and not a banner ad to be seen. A search box and a funny "I'm Feeling Lucky!" button that I tried and got great results! I loved the simplicity, speed and that "Feeling Lucky" sense of humor.

That quirky "Do No Evil" mantra made me a believer. I really like it, Yes, I think I'm falling for Google! Yes, I believe this actually could become my favorite search engine!

I could go on forever about all the ways I love Google, but the metaphor is already stretched thin. Let's talk about this in a dispassionate way without metaphorical references.

Right up front I'll say that the biggest reason I'm attatched to Google is that, as an SEO, I see between 50% to 80% of search referrals come from Google - so until the others get their numbers above the measley 10% to 25% or search referral traffic, I simply won't care so much about them as I do for Google. When you optimize for Google, the others come straggling along as well. But on the personal side, it's a different thing. I think they just do most things better than the competition. Clearly, nobody says I'm going to MSN Live it" or "Go Yahoo it". Nope, "Google It" means search it.

I'm a Mac guy, so there are reasons to both hate, and to love Google. I use a Windows PC at work and routinely use all the functionality that is supported by Google on that platform. But at home on the Apple machine, I get an annoying message in Safari browser when I go to Google Spreadsheets and Docs. It says, "Your browser is not supported" when I want to open a Word document sent to me by email. I CAN'T OPEN IT on my mac without Google Spreadsheets and Docs because I don't use Microsoft Word on the Mac.

OK, I can open Firefox for Mac and access Google Spreadsheets and Docs, so I do that. But Google has been ignoring us until lately, when we got Google Earth a year or so ago, and just this week were given Google Desktop Search! That Google Mac Blog is a welcome sight as well.

Even though Picasa photo app is not Mac Friendly, we don't really need that because iPhoto is better anyway, if not quite as web friendly and fast. But now PicasaWeb works from inside iPhoto to upload photos! Cool.

So as the announcement came that Google had released MyMaps this week, and Danny Sullivan pointed out in the Daily Searchcast that Yahoo and MSN already offer the same feature and have for some time now - I realized that I was committed. I'm already married to Google! I no longer want to check out the competition in many cases.

If Yahoo or MSN release a new service, I usually go give it a try. Most often I'm underwhelmed or it just isn't as good as the comparable Google tool. This happened to me with Yahoo maps and early versions didn't have Google Maps Satellite views, didn't have that cool drag to move function and simply couldn't find many addresses I entered. I gave up and have used Google Maps ever since.

Recently I saw a co-worker using Yahoo maps and all that functionality was now there, plus a few additional features Google Maps doesn't offer. (Warning, metaphors approaching) I strayed and started seeing Yahoo again.

Then a few weeks back when Yahoo / Overture suddently dropped the public keyword research tool and that made news, I started to look around for sexier tools and went out a few times with MSN Labs keyword research tools - Wow! That's a hot service!

But I feel disloyal. I want my dear Google to have a better keyword research tool.

It's too late - I realize that Google's got me. I know it's irrational, but my heart already belongs to Google. Will You Marry Me Google? I'm completely committed metaphorically, but maybe I should be committed, literally.

Mike Valentine is an SEO Specialist offering occassional commentary on Search Engine Developments through his Reality SEO Blog and developed WebSite101 Small Business Ecommerce Tutorial in 1999 to help educate the little guy to the intricacies of online business.

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Sunday, March 18, 2007

Marriage of SEO & Accessibility Prevents Lawsuits, Increases Visibility

The WorldWide Web Consortium (W3C), in May 0f 1999, issued Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, which outlined methods of making web content easily accessible to the visually and physically impaired. In those guidelines the W3C stated plainly,
"Provide content that, when presented to the user, conveys essentially the same function or purpose as auditory or visual content."

Well, one purpose is to communicate your site content to blind search engine spiders, which can't hear auditory content either. If only we would pay attention to the W3C, the web would be fully accessible to all and completely search engine friendly. Hindsight and attention to historical web developments might serve to make us aware that SEO and accessibility are interwoven. Yes, SEO, as we'll discuss a bit more below. But first, let's look a bit closer at the W3C guidelines on accessibility.

Those guidelines recommend that web developers
"Use features that enable activation of page elements via a variety of input devices."
The idea is to allow those using assistive devices, or those with javascript disabled to navigate a web page easily and without the need of a mouse, using alternate methods to move through and activate links on the page. When using text only readers, web-enabled cell phones and other small screen devices it's not always possible to easily access and activate web page content.

There have been a few high-profile cases which should have served as wake-up calls for accessibility to online business.
"In 1999, the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) sued America Online, claiming it discriminated against the blind because its system is not accessible to them. The federation later dropped the lawsuit when AOL agreed to make its software compatible with devices designed for visually impaired users."

The above quote appeared in a 2002 CNet News story by Declan McCullough about another lawsuit against Southwest Airlines was filed and U.S. District Judge Patricia Seitz ruled that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies only to physical spaces, such as restaurants and movie theaters, and not to the Internet."

That CNet story was written after a law suit was filed against Southwest Airlines because the web site was not accessible to visually challenged web surfers using "screen reader" technology to browse the web. The story was titled "Disabilities Act Doesn't Cover Web"

OK, now lets jump forward another year to 2003, when attention was focused on Search Engine Optimization when Brandon Olejniczak wrote an article for Alistapart (ALA) titled "Using XHTML/CSS for an Effective SEO Campaign" and discussed the value of coding to current web standards to lighten page code and remove excessive javascript from web pages, thus improving search engine friendliness of web sites.

There was still little attention paid to the connection between the two seemingly unrelated issues of accessiblity and SEO until Andy Hagans followed up with an article for ALA titled "High Accessibility Is Effective Search Engine Optimization" in 2005 which pointed out that paying attention to accessibility increases search engine rankings. He said,

"I have been a search engine optimizer for several years, but only recently have become infatuated with web accessibility. After reading for weeks and painstakingly editing my personal website to comply with most W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, I have come to a startling revelation: high accessibility overlaps heavily with effective white hat SEO."

Wait, an SEO "infatuated with accessibility" - they like each other and are now flirting! What a great couple they'd make! SEO's could approach their clients with the dual promise of improved search rankings AND keeping them out of court on accessibility issues. If a company loves that sexy search and cares little about accessibility, won't the idea of having search as a good friend make them at least accept the dull boyfriend, accessibility?

So in July of 2006, Google jumps into the web accessibility fray with "Google Accessible Search" which purports to rank web sites based on how accessible they are to visually impaired visitors. This is a very interesting development as it suggests that sites which are NOT "accessible" rank differently in this special Google Labs version of the search engine than they do in the normal search. If this were true, then Andy Hagans may be off-base in his assumption that accessibility and SEO go hand in hand. (Apparently Google participated in some accessibility studies with two university intern researchers right around this time.)

One noticable difference in "Google Accessible Search" results is that multiple pages from the same site show up in those search results, where in regular Google searches, only two pages from the same site are allowed to appear in results. Still there is little discussion among SEO's how accessibility and search might be, if not lovers, then at least VERY close and getting serious.

Now we'll jump back into the halls of justice with two new lawsuits in late 2006. One in which the National Federation for the Blind (NFB) sues Target on behalf of a blind shopper over web site accessibility, and another where blind Texas state workers sue because the Texas Workforce Commission bought human resources software that is not accessible to blind workers.

Now - in December of last year - hop over to MediaPost, where Rob Garner is ruminating in "Search Insider" about "SEO 2.0 And The Pageless Web: The RIA Search Conundrum" (RIA meaning "Rich Internet Applications") and referencing asynchronous JavaScript and XML (AJAX) and difficulties gaining search visibility using (javascript links) techniques which don't require re-loading of a page to add new content.

Hmmmm. Remember my reference in the first sentence? WorldWide Web Consortium (W3C), in May 0f 1999, issued Web Content Accessibility Guidelines in which they recommend -
"Use features that enable activation of page elements via a variety of input devices."
AJAX, once again, requires use of a mouse, active javascript and visual cues not available to visually challenged visitors. Why do developers keep going there? I know, I know, because those sexy new tools are irresistible - but remember, SEO and accessibility are VERY good friends and miss SEO dislikes web tricks that insult or ignore the boyfriend, accessibility.

Now let's hop forward to March of this year, where Rob Garner comments on the Texas lawsuit and that accessibility and search are often seen together. Now Garner is on the case (or maybe two separate cases), when he says,
"If nothing is being done for accessibility or search, mobilize your developers, designers, search specialists, and accessibility specialists to assess and determine the best solution.This will likely involve the creation of an entire second site for search engines and screen-readers. If rich applications are a part of your future, get used to the idea of maintaining two sites."

Here we go again! Let's NOT have two separate sites - CSS and XHTML can accomplish the same things as AJAX and Flash (well at least similar things), remember SEO and accessibility REALLY like each other - don't separate them, bring them together.

Hold the presses, I have a great idea! Now that SEO and Accessibility have met, flirted and they clearly like each other, I propose that we get them married so that these issues stay forever together. I know it's not the norm for third parties to make marriage proposals (except in shotgun weddings), if the two are wed, won't that be enough to convince the web engineering teams AND corporate counsel that helping visually impaired web visitors (and avoiding lawsuits from NFB) WHILE ranking well in the search engines are very good business?

Pre-nuptials could be complex and it may be tough to get everyone to wrap their head around the concept of SEO married to accessibility, but it ultimately means increased web site visitors due to higher search rankings and less money lost fighting lawsuits over accessibility issues. More money, more visitors, less time in court - sounds like a marriage made in heaven.

Remember, search engine spiders are blind and can't hear. Design your pages for them and it resolves accessibility issues. SEO and accessibility are true soul-mates and should never be separated. The W3C neglected to introduce SEO to accessibility in 1999, but they did see the accessibility issues. Now that we realize search engine spiders demand accessibility and are responsible for increased search engine visibility (pun intended, sorry) let's not separate the two again. Profitability is related to accessibility, which is now married to SEO.

Mike Valentine is an SEO Specialist offering occassional commentary on Search Engine Developments through his Reality SEO Blog and developed WebSite101 Small Business Ecommerce Tutorial in 1999 to help educate the little guy to the intricacies of online business.

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